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With Roe overturned, SC politicians take steps to implement their Heartbeat Bill

South Carolina leaders are seeking to implement their Fetal Heartbeat Act, filing a motion with the courts to start enforcing the 2021 law.
Jimmy Emerson
South Carolina leaders are seeking to implement their Fetal Heartbeat Act, filing a motion with the courts to start enforcing the 2021 law.

In the aftermath of the Dobbs v Jackson decision overturning Roe v Wade, South Carolina leaders are moving to implement the state’s so-called Fetal Heartbeat Act, which bans abortions when cardiac activities are detected in a fetus.

This would curtail many abortions in the state because cardiac activities typically begin when a woman is around six weeks pregnant. That is often before many individuals are aware they are pregnant.

The law was signed by South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster in Feb. 2021 but immediately placed on hold by a court amid a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood. The law is likely to now take effect, following the Supreme Court’s ruling Friday.

“Once the Heartbeat Bill goes into effect, then before any abortion is performed, there's a requirement of an ultrasound,” said state Rep. John McCravy, chair of the house committee figuring out how to implement the law. “And if a heartbeat is detected, the baby is protected.”

Just after the Dobbs decision came down, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announced that his administration would take actions to start getting the law ready to be implemented.

“By the end of the day, we will file motions so that the Fetal Heartbeat Act will go into effect in South Carolina and immediately begin working with members of the General Assembly to determine the best solution for protecting the lives of unborn South Carolinians,” McMaster tweeted.

McCravy said a motion was filed later in the day by South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson asking the court to allow the law to take effect.

When the Fetal Heartbeat Act passed the legislature and was signed by the governor in February 2021, Planned Parenthood sued South Carolina arguing that the law violated the legal precedent set by the Roe v Wade decision.

Then, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay, which is when the courts order the government to pause the implementation of a certain law or policy due to ongoing legal uncertainty.

It should be going into effect soon. I cannot imagine why the court would not rule to lift the stay, because Roe – that it was decided under – is now unconstitutional,” McCravy said. “We have a great new Supreme Court who has protected lives.”

The decision in Dobbs is a rare instance in which the Supreme Court has taken away rights it had previously protected.

“Certainly in the modern era – since World War Two – we have never seen a retraction of a constitutional right,” said Kirk Randazzo, chair of the University of South Carolina’s political science department. “And so this is really uncharted territory for the country, for legal scholars and, quite frankly, for judges.”

Randazzo notes that the right to privacy that was the justification for the Roe v Wade decision also underpins other cases establishing the right to same-same-sex marriage, to engage in private sexual acts and the right of married couples to obtain contraceptives.

“The pendulum might be swinging to the other side,” Randazzo said. “So this could be simply the beginning of a string of cases where the Supreme Court strikes down the precedent that individuals have relied on for 50 plus years.”

McCravy said that the Fetal Heartbeat Act could go into effect any day. The courts could make their decision on the state’s motion Friday or in the next couple of weeks.

“I know that the state of South Carolina has asked for quick action by the courts, so we have every reason to believe that they would move as quickly as possible,” Molly Rivera, communications director of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said. “I'm not sure what that looks like – I'm not sure if that's hours, days, or weeks – that, I'm not sure.”

Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, which covers both South and North Carolina, said that they will still offer care to women seeking abortions until a ruling is made.

“This might seem like a scary and confusing time, but Planned Parenthood South Atlantic is here to help you,” they tweeted. “We will continue to provide you with information about where to get abortion care because your health and well-being are our highest priority.”

Abortion providers in North Carolina are preparing for an influx of new patients traveling to the state to receive an abortion.

“Women have relied on their constitutional right to make their own medical decisions,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said. “But today that right has been tragically ripped away. That means it is now up to the states to determine whether women get reproductive health care, and in North Carolina, they still can.”

In South Carolina, there was a push in the state legislature earlier this year to pass even more restrictive abortion laws that ultimately didn’t pass. Randazzo said that this might open the door for the legislature to revisit a more restrictive abortion law.

Rep. McCravy said that is their plan when the legislature returns to Columbia in the next couple of weeks.

“We're going to write a new law in South Carolina… We're going to start having hearings on what that new abortion law should look like,” McCravy said. “We want to close the gap between the heartbeat and conception – and we hope to do that soon.”

WFAE's Claire Donnelly and Nick De La Canal contributed to this report.

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Lars Lonnroth is a journalism and political science student at Mercer University in Georgia. He's interning at WFAE.