South Carolina gov: Abortion order 'oversteps' federal power

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina's governor wants a new abortion law to take effect, arguing Wednesday that a judge's decision to put the whole measure — and not just the parts being challenged in court — on hold during a lawsuit “oversteps the bounds of federal judicial power.”

Gov. Henry McMaster's brief with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asks appellate judges to lift a lower court's injunction on the “ South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act. ” The Republican signed the measure into law earlier this year.

The law requires doctors to perform ultrasounds to check for a heartbeat in the fetus, which can typically be detected about six weeks after conception. If cardiac activity is detected, the abortion can only be performed if the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest, or the mother’s life was in danger.

Planned Parenthood attorneys sued immediately, and the entire law has been blocked from going into effect during the litigation. In his brief, attorneys for McMaster argued that decision represents “overreaching federal power to interfere with state law."

“This Court should not countenance such a judicial intrusion upon South Carolina’s legitimate sovereign interests in the form of an unnecessary nullification of state law,” attorneys for the state wrote. They argued that a section such as the requirement that an ultrasound be performed is “a standalone provision that survives any invalidation of another provision.”

McMaster, along with other defendants including state Attorney General Alan Wilson, also argue that the groups that sued don't have proper standing to challenge the law.

“The right to life is the most precious of rights and the most fragile," McMaster said in a statement Wednesday. "We must protect life at every opportunity, regardless of cost or inconvenience.”

Attorneys for Planned Parenthood have not responded in court.

Actions by an even higher court could also dictate outcomes in this case. The lower court judge has said she’s inclined to stay pending motions following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to take a case from Mississippi — which wants to enforce an abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The court will likely hear that case in the fall, with a decision likely in the spring of 2022.

About a dozen other states have passed similar or more restrictive abortion bans, which could take effect if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 court decision supporting abortion rights. Federal law supersedes state law.

More than 90% of abortions take place in the first 13 weeks of a woman’s pregnancy, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Opponents have argued many women do not know they are pregnant at six weeks, especially if they are not trying to conceive. And, they argue, with such an early deadline, the law gives women little time to consider whether to have an abortion.


Meg Kinnard can be reached at