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South Carolina's fetal heartbeat abortion law on hold by State Supreme Court

The measure bans abortions at roughly the six-week mark of pregnancy.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina Supreme Court has temporarily blocked the state's fetal heartbeat abortion law which only went into effect weeks ago.

The justices Wednesday unanimously voted in favor of a temporary injunction against the measure, which stops it from taking effect for now while they consider the legality of the measure. That ruling likely will take several more weeks to come down.

The fetal heartbeat law was passed in February of 2019 but had been blocked by federal courts due to it conflict with the Roe vs. Wade decision. But when the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision in the Dobbs case in June threw out Roe, the law could take effect, which it did days later

The law essentially bans abortions after six weeks, significantly lower than the 20 weeks the state's previous law allowed. 

However, Planned Parenthood, along with other abortion rights advocates, filed a lawsuit saying the fetal heartbeat law violates the state's privacy law and sued the state and South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson. Wilson's office said that law had no bearing on abortion, and was meant to govern things such as communication security.

However, in their decision to grant the injunction, the justices said that the privacy law was enacted at a time when Roe was in effect took that ruling into consideration. 

The justices asked both sides to present further arguments in the case over the next few weeks. 

"For more than six weeks, patients have been forced to travel hundreds of miles for an abortion or suffer the life-altering consequences of forced pregnancy," said Planned Parenthood South Atlantic Jenny Black in a statement. "Today the court has granted our patients a welcome reprieve, but the fight to restore bodily autonomy to the people of South Carolina is far from over. No matter what happens, we will never stop fighting for our patients’ right to make their own decisions about their bodies and futures.”

"While we are disappointed, it’s important to point out this is a temporary injunction," said the South Carolina Attorney General's Office in response. "The court didn’t rule on the constitutionality of the Fetal Heartbeat law. We will continue to defend the law."

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, who supports banning abortion, said he's not deterred by Wednesday's action. 

"We always knew that we would need to fight to defend the Fetal Heartbeat Act," McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes said. "We successfully did so in the federal court system and we’re confident that we will prevail in state court."

McMaster's main opponent in November's election, Democrat Joe Cunningham, also weighed in. He's made the issue of the two men's stances on abortion--Cunningham favors abortion rights--as a key part of the campaign. 

"This draconian law is not based in science and strips women of their fundamental freedoms," he said on Twitter. "This law is bad for South Carolina families, doctors, and businesses. Our fight is far from over but today’s ruling is another sign that the people of SC want more freedoms - not less."

This all comes even as state lawmakers consider possible laws to ban abortion outright. The House advanced a bill Tuesday to end abortion with only an exemption to save the life of a mother, and the Senate heard testimony Wednesday about a similar version. 

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