COLUMBIA, S.C. – Appellate arguments over a lawsuit challenging South Carolina’s abortion law have been pushed into the new year.
Oral arguments in the case had originally been planned for next month, but the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has rescheduled them for the last week in January, according to an order from the court. Earlier this week, attorneys for the state also requested that the case be heard toward the end of that week, due to a scheduling conflict.
Planned Parenthood is suing South Carolina to over the measure, which was signed into law by Republican Gov. Henry McMaster earlier this year and requires doctors to perform ultrasounds to check for a so-called “fetal heartbeat.” If cardiac activity — which can typically be detected about six weeks into pregnancy — is detected, the abortion can only be performed if the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest, or if the mother’s life is in danger.
Opponents have argued many women do not know they are pregnant at six weeks. And, they argue, with such an early deadline, the law gives women little time to consider whether to have an abortion.
Medical experts say the cardiac activity is not an actual heartbeat but rather an initial flutter of electric activity within cells in an embryo. They say the heart doesn’t begin to form until the fetus is at least nine weeks old, and they decry efforts to promote abortion bans by relying on medical inaccuracies.
The 4th Circuit had originally planned to hear the case the week of Dec. 6. That's a week after the U.S. Supreme Court hears a challenge to Mississippi's new abortion law. South Carolina's law has been blocked, pending the outcome of that legal challenge.
Mississippi wants the high court to uphold its ban on most abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy, telling the court it should overrule the landmark Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing a woman’s right to an abortion, and the 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that prevents states from banning abortion before viability.
South Carolina is among a dozen states awaiting the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on Texas' abortion law — the most restrictive in the nation — which bans abortions as early as six weeks and has no exceptions for rape or incest.
Its unique enforcement mechanism also allows anyone — even someone outside Texas — to sue an abortion provider, or anyone else who may have helped someone get an abortion after the limit, and seek financial damages of up to $10,000 per defendant.
In July, 20 mostly Republican-led states went on record in support of South Carolina’s law, arguing that a federal judge was wrong to pause the entire measure instead of just the provision being challenged. Several months later, 20 Democratic attorneys general voiced support for the legal challenge to South Carolina’s law, arguing that the restrictive measure could harm their states by taxing resources if women cross borders to seek care.
Meg Kinnard can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.