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US Appeals Court blocks South Carolina fetal heartbeat abortion law

The law passed in 2021 outlaws abortions roughly six weeks after conception.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A federal appeals court has upheld the decision to block the South Carolina's fetal heartbeat abortion bill from taking effect. But the final decision on the law's fate will likely be decided later this year by the U.S. Supreme Court. 

The Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals issued their decision Tuesday, affirming a lower court ruling made in March of last year that stopped the law from being implemented. 

“The court’s decision means that — for now — our patients can continue to come to us, their trusted health care providers, to access abortion and other essential health services," said Planned Parenthood South Atlantic said in a statement.

"We are disappointed in the Court’s opinion," the South Carolina Attorney General's Office said after the ruling came down. "However, we will continue to explore any and all means necessary to protect life in the remaining stages of this case as well as in any other cases that may arise." 

Tuesday's decision, though, may only stand for a few more months. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last November about a similar abortion law in Mississippi. If the high court rules overturns Roe vs. Wade or weakens it with that decision--a distinct possibility--the South Carolina law would suddenly be valid once more.

The law in question, passed in February 2021, requires doctors to perform ultrasounds to check for a heartbeat in the fetus, which can typically be detected about six weeks after conception. If one is detected, the abortion can only be performed if the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest or the mother’s life is in danger.

Pro-choice advocates say most women aren't aware they're pregnant at six weeks, so the law essentially would be banning abortion, which they say is a violation of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Roe vs. Wade, which recognized a woman's right to the procedure.   

In March of 2021, Judge Mary Geiger Lewis granted what's known as a preliminary injunction against the law, after Planned Parenthood and several pro-choice group filed a suit. Her order meant that the law couldn't be put into effect until a higher court heard the case.

The law would fine doctors $10,000 for either failing to check if there's a fetal heartbeat or for performing a scan but proceeding anyway. They'd also face two years in prison on the felony charge. The law does not have penalties for women seeking an abortion.  

Meanwhile, South Carolina lawmakers are considering bills this year that would all but outlaw abortion if the Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade. 

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