20 states backing challenge to South Carolina abortion law

The attorneys general for 20 states and Washington, D.C., are joining together in supporting a legal challenge to South Carolina's restrictive abortion law signed earlier this year, which prohibits most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. 

In an amicus brief filed Wednesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, attorneys general from Virginia, California, New York and other states wrote that South Carolina’s so-called fetal heartbeat law is “blatantly unconstitutional” and “harms women’s healthcare as a whole.” 

Planned Parenthood filed the legal challenge to the South Carolina measure almost immediately after Gov. Henry McMaster (R) signed it into law in February. 

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The law has been blocked from going into effect pending the outcome of a legal challenge to a similar Mississippi abortion law currently before the Supreme Court.

Officially called the “South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act,” the law requires doctors to perform ultrasounds before an abortion, and prohibits abortions from taking place if cardiac activity is detected. 

Similar to the controversial Texas law that the Supreme Court recently declined to block, the South Carolina law includes exceptions for medical emergencies. Unlike the Texas law, the South Carolina law also allows abortions after the heartbeat detection in cases of rape or incest. 

In the Wednesday amicus brief, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D), on behalf of the coalition of states, wrote that the effects of the South Carolina law “are not confined to limits on particular procedures in a single state."

"History shows that people will cross states lines to receive proper care," he noted. “As a result, South Carolina’s restrictive abortion laws will cause many of its citizens to seek abortion care in Amici States—potentially straining their healthcare systems." 

Herring went on to say that “in light of similarly restrictive legislation being passed across the country, the collective impact of such laws harms healthcare on a nationwide scale.” 

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New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) said in a statement announcing her participation in the brief that “with more and more states passing restrictive abortion laws, the constitutional right to access safe and legal abortions is at great risk.” 

“The unlawful efforts by South Carolina and other states to deny individuals their constitutionally-guaranteed rights through ‘heartbeat’ laws will not go unchallenged,” she continued. “I will always do everything within my power to protect our bodies and our choices.”

Legislators in other states, including Missouri, Florida and Arkansas, have signaled that they would like to use the Texas law as a model in their states. 

Democratic leaders joined Planned Parenthood this week in a series of statements declaring that these new laws and copy-cat efforts will place abortion front-and-center on 2022 ballots.