South Carolina Judge Halts 6-Week Abortion Ban

Ban reverts back to 20 weeks until state Supreme Court can review law, per Judge Clifton Newman
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 26, 2023 1:00 PM CDT
Judge Slams SC Abortion Ban: 'Status Quo Should Be Maintained'
Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman hears arguments during a hearing on Friday in Columbia, South Carolina, on whether he should halt enforcement of South Carolina's new law banning abortion when cardiac activity is detected   (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

A judge on Friday put a temporary halt to South Carolina's new law banning most abortions around six weeks of pregnancy until the state Supreme Court can review the measure. The ruling by Judge Clifton Newman came just about 24 hours after Gov. Henry McMaster signed the bill. The decision means South Carolina reverts to a ban at about 20 weeks after fertilization, per the AP. "The status quo should be maintained until the (state) Supreme Court reviews its decision," Newman said. "It's going to end up there." The law passed Tuesday by the General Assembly is similar to a ban on abortion once cardiac activity can be detected that lawmakers passed in 2021. The state Supreme Court decided in a 3-2 ruling that the 2021 law violated the state constitution's right to privacy.

Legislative leaders said the new law makes technical tweaks that should sway at least one justice to change his mind; plus, the author of that January ruling has since retired. The law took effect as soon as it was signed, and Planned Parenthood immediately sued, saying it put South Carolina's abortion clinics into limbo, with canceled appointments from patients further along in their pregnancies and doctors having to carefully review the new regulations. The abortion rights group said the new law was so similar to the old one that clinics and women seeking treatment would be harmed if it were allowed to stay in effect until a full court review.

The majority opinion in the state Supreme Court ruling striking down the 2021 law said that although lawmakers have the authority to protect life, the privacy clause in the state constitution ultimately gives women time to determine whether they want to get an abortion, and most women don't know they're pregnant six weeks after conception. Justice Kaye Hearn wrote the opinion. She has since had to retire because she turned 72 and was replaced by a man, making South Carolina's high court the only one in the country without a woman on the bench. The changes in the new law are directed at another justice in the majority, John Few, who wrote his own opinion saying the 2021 law was poorly written because legislators didn't show it did any work to determine if six weeks was enough time for a woman to know she was pregnant.

story continues below

Few suggested he would've found an even stricter full ban on abortion constitutional, saying that if a fetus had all the rights of a person, then a ban would be like child abuse or rape laws that don't violate privacy rights. The new law includes exceptions for fatal fetal anomalies, the patient's life and health, and rape or incest up to 12 weeks. Doctors breaching it could face felony charges and up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Most Southern states have enacted stricter abortion laws in the past year, and abortion foes say that's why South Carolina has seen a sharp increase in the number of abortions and out-of-state patients. Abortion is now banned or severely restricted in much of the South, including in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia. In Georgia, it's allowed only in the first six weeks.

(More abortion stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.