6 or 9 weeks? SC judge offers initial ruling on when SC’s abortion ban begins

A Richland County judge is keeping the state’s fetal heartbeat abortion ban at six weeks, despite Planned Parenthood’s effort to get the ban moved to nine weeks.

In Judge Daniel Coble’s order denying a preliminary injunction, he cited the legislative intent of the law when lawmakers debated the ban. Legislators, both supporting and opposing the ban, repeatedly referred to the law as a six-week abortion ban, a mark when a woman may not even know she is pregnant.

“This court holds that it is clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that the General Assembly intended, and the public understood, that the time frame of the act would begin around the six-week mark,” Coble wrote in a decision issued Thursday afternoon.

South Carolina law bans abortion after a heartbeat can be detected.

The state argued “an embryo’s heart is beating steadily, repetitively and rhythmically” at the six-week mark even though the heart isn’t fully formed.

Planned Parenthood South Atlantic argued that the law should be enforced at the nine-week mark, when a heart is fully formed.

The state Supreme Court ruled in August that the state’s fetal heartbeat law is constitutional, but said there is confusion over when a baby’s heartbeat begins.

Coble conceded the way the law is written has ambiguity.

“The definition of ‘fetal heartbeat’ is not clear and unambiguous and does not convey a definite meaning on its face,” Coble wrote. “Therefore, this Court must look to the intent of the General Assembly in determining, if possible, what it envisioned.”

The governor’s office, which defended the law along with the state attorney general’s office, did not immediately comment on Coble’s decision.

It is anticipated the decision most likely will be appealed.

“Status quo remains, but we live to fight another day,” said Vicki Ringer, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic. “After we read the decision, we may have more to say.”