Gov. McMaster, Republicans appeal injunction that stopped SC’s abortion law

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South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and two top Republican leaders have appealed a federal district court’s preliminary injunction prohibiting the state from enacting a bill that bans nearly all abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, the governor announced Wednesday.

The state, represented by State Attorney General Alan Wilson, House Speaker Jay Lucas and McMaster, among others, filed an appeal Wednesday to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals challenging U.S. Judge Mary Lewis’ March ruling that has prevented the anti-abortion measure from taking effect.

The state’s legal brief requests that Lewis’ order be reversed and asks the appeals court to dismiss the case on the grounds that the plaintiffs, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and Greenville Women’s Clinic, lack standing to bring suit against the law.

It also argues the federal district court erred in enjoining the entirety of the Fetal Heartbeat Act, despite the law’s severability clause, which “directs that every single ‘word’ go into effect regardless of what happens to other portions of the Act.”

Motivated by a growing majority in the State House, the Republican-controlled Legislature moved quickly this year on a law that would outlaw abortions after a heartbeat is detected.

South Carolina’s Fetal Heartbeat Act, one of the nation’s strictest anti-abortion measures, was signed into law Feb. 18, but has remained tied up in the courts from the get go.

The law would ban all abortions after an embryo’s heartbeat is detectable, or roughly six weeks into pregnancy, except in cases of rape, incest or if the mother’s life is in danger. Critics argue the law doesn’t give women enough time to make a decision about termination because many don’t realize they’re expecting that early in the pregnancy.

Attorneys from Planned Parenthood and the Greenville Women’s Clinic, which run the state’s three abortion clinics, sued immediately to halt the law, claiming it was unconstitutional.

Judge Lewis issued a temporary restraining order the next day, and in March issued a preliminary injunction that solidified the temporary restraining order and made it possible for the state to appeal the injunction to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

She has said she favors delaying action on the case until the U.S. Supreme Court takes up an anti-abortion measure from Mississippi that seeks to ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

While both the South Carolina and Mississippi laws conflict with the nearly 50-year-old precedent established in the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision that found women have a constitutional right to an abortion for up to six months of pregnancy, Republican leaders are hopeful the new conservative majority on the nation’s highest court may find differently.

In a statement Wednesday, McMaster explained his decision to appeal the federal district court’s preliminary injunction, even as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to take up the Mississippi case.

“While the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case related to Mississippi’s law offers great hope and promise for protecting the lives of the unborn, we must defend South Carolina’s Fetal Heartbeat Act against every challenge at every level,” he said. “As I’ve said before, the right to life is the most precious of rights and the most fragile. We must never let it be taken for granted or taken away. And we must protect life at every opportunity, regardless of cost or inconvenience.”

Top SC officials to appeal federal judge’s freeze on new state anti-abortion law