South Carolina abortion bill: Gov. Henry McMaster signs 6-week ban into law
South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Beatty, Gov. Henry McMaster and new Comptroller General Brian Gaines appear at a news conference on May 12, 2023, in Columbia, South Carolina.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster on Thursday signed a bill into law that will limit most abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
South Carolina now joins a list of Republican-led states that have championed sweeping abortion restrictions in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade. The entire US South, with the exception of Virginia, has moved to significantly curtail abortion rights in the past year.
“With my signature, the Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act is now law and will begin saving the lives of unborn children immediately,” McMaster, a Republican, said in a statement. “This is a great day for life in South Carolina, but the fight is not over. We stand ready to defend this legislation against any challenges and are confident we will succeed. The right to life must be preserved, and we will do everything we can to protect it.”
The law is effective immediately, but it already facing a legal challenge. Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, along with the Greenville Women’s Clinic and two physician plaintiffs, has filed a suit in state court to try to stop the law.
“State lawmakers have once again trampled on our right to make private health care decisions, ignoring warnings from health care providers and precedent set by the state’s highest court just a few months ago,” Planned Parenthood South Atlantic’s President and CEO Jenny Black said in a statement. Black was referring to a similar six-week abortion ban that was passed in the state in 2021 but struck down earlier this year by the state Supreme Court, which concluded that the state constitution’s privacy protections require limits on the procedure to allow women sufficient time to end a pregnancy.
Senate Bill 474, known as the “Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act,” bans most abortions after early cardiac activity can be detected in a fetus or embryo, commonly as early as six weeks into pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant. Any physician who knowingly violates the law will have their license to practice in the state revoked by the State Board of Medical Examiners and could face felony charges, fines and jail time.
The law includes exceptions to save the patient’s life and for fatal fetal anomalies, as well as limited exceptions up to 12 weeks for victims of rape and incest, with doctor reporting requirements to local law enforcement. It also contains an amendment added by the House that would require a “biological father” to pay child support from the point of conception.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre condemned the legislation in a statement as “an extreme and dangerous abortion ban,” which she warned “will criminalize health care providers and cause delays and denials of health and life-saving care.”
In the wake of new abortion regulations passed in Florida and North Carolina this legislative session, Jean-Pierre stressed that “South Carolina’s ban will cut off access to abortion for women in the state and those across the entire region for whom South Carolina is their closest option for care.”
McMaster’s signature on Thursday is the culmination of a drawn-out and contentious effort that has engulfed the state legislature over the past couple of weeks. After McMaster called a special session for lawmakers to work on the abortion bill, it took the state House two days to pass it because Democrats filed more than 1,000 amendments to slow down the legislation. And in the state Senate, a bipartisan group of five female lawmakers banded together to try to stop it, but it ultimately passed by a vote of 27-19.
This story has been updated with additional details and reaction.