On Thursday, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster signed into law a bill that prohibits abortion once a fetal heartbeat has been detected. The passing of Senate Bill 1, also known as the “heartbeat bill,” by the South Carolina legislature makes the state the twelfth to pass a similar bill in recent years. The House passed the bill Thursday morning by a vote of 79-35, with two Democrats voting for it and two Republicans voting against. The Senate had previously approved the bill on Jan. 28.
The law requires doctors to perform an ultrasound to check for a fetal heartbeat before performing an abortion. If a heartbeat is detected, the doctor would be prohibited from performing an abortion except in the case of great risk to the mother’s life or physical health, if there is a detectable fetal anomaly that is not compatible with life, or in cases where the woman reports the pregnancy to be a result of rape or incest.
The bill would not punish a pregnant woman for obtaining an illegal abortion, but a provider who performs an illegal abortion could be charged with a felony and, upon conviction, be fined $10,000 and sentenced to prison for up to two years.
Critics say the law would not give women time to obtain an abortion after learning they are pregnant. Because of the ability of transvaginal ultrasound to sometimes detect a heartbeat before six weeks’ gestation, some argue the law would create a near total ban on abortions. Of the 5,101 abortions reported in South Carolina in 2019, 2,323 (or 45.5 percent) were performed at six or fewer weeks’ gestation.
In response, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and the Greenville Women’s Clinic immediately filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block the bill from going into effect. The lawsuit requests the court to issue a temporary restraining order and an injunction that would stop the law from being enforced. The groups argue that the law, which went into effect when the governor signed it, would prevent at least 75 abortions scheduled to be performed within 72 hours of the law going into effect. The case is scheduled to receive a hearing in Columbia’s federal courthouse on Friday at 1 p.m.
Related to this, the Supreme Court could decide to hear a case involving Mississippi’s fifteen-week abortion ban. If the case is heard, pro-life advocates hope the Court will overturn the landmark decision legalizing abortion in Roe v. Wade. Were Roe to be overturned, state laws would thenl determine access to or restrictions upon abortion.
Christians should be heartened by this positive news out of South Carolina and should pray the law is able to take effect. We should also continue to pray and advocate for the reversal of Roe, which would immediately save the lives of an estimated 100,000 children a year. And regardless of these outcomes, Christians must continue to advocate for pro-life legislation while also caring for the women and families vulnerable to abortion in our communities.