The South Carolina Supreme Court on Wednesday reversed a temporary block on the state’s abortion restrictions, with four justices agreeing and one dissenting in three separate opinions.
The law, known as the ”Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act,” limits most abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, when early cardiac activity can be detected in a fetus or embryo.
Shortly after Republican Gov. Henry McMaster signed the Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act in May, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and several other medical providers filed a lawsuit in state court to try to stop it.
The state filed an emergency petition asking the South Carolina Supreme Court, which is comprised of five men, to act quickly on the case.
In a statement Wednesday, McMaster said, “With this victory, we protect the lives of countless unborn children and reaffirm South Carolina’s place as one of the most pro-life states in America.”
The law allows for exceptions to save the pregnant woman’s life and for fatal fetal anomalies, as well as limited exceptions up to 12 weeks for victims of rape and incest. Physicians who knowingly violate the law could face felony charges, jail time, fines and would have their license to practice in the state revoked by the State Board of Medical Examiners.
In one of the opinions in Wednesday’s ruling, Justice John Kittredge wrote, “To be sure, the 2023 Act infringes on a woman’s right of privacy and bodily autonomy.”
He then goes on to add that the state legislature “made a policy determination that, at a certain point in the pregnancy, a woman’s interest in autonomy and privacy does not outweigh the interest of the unborn child to live” and that using the “legal and judicial lens under which we must operate, while mindful of the difficult and emotional issue before us, we cannot say as a matter of law that the 2023 Act is unreasonable and thus violates the state constitution.”
Justice John Few agreed with reversing the ban, but wrote a separate opinion. He said that the new bill promotes “active family planning.”
“Couples who do not want to bring a pregnancy to term and have a baby are enabled by the 2023 Act to make that choice before a pregnancy by the increased availability of contraceptives, and are encouraged through the use of Plan B and early pregnancy testing to meet the statutory deadline of ‘fetal heartbeat’ in the event contraceptive measures are not effective,” he wrote.
“I am certain many will find my analysis unsatisfying. Constitutional analysis, however, is not a team sport,” Few added.
Chief Justice Donald Beatty dissented, warning, “The lack of judicial independence renders a court powerless and places it on the edge of a slippery slope to irrelevance.”
He also said that the law places more responsibility on a woman for an unexpected pregnancy.
“Moreover, the implication is that women are solely responsible for a couple’s unexpected pregnancy, possibly due to the lack of birth control. But what about situations where birth control fails? Or situations where someone does not have regular access to birth control due to circumstances beyond their control, such as a lack of insurance, low income, or an absence of nearby medical facilities? The financial and emotional burdens of repetitive pregnancy testing before a woman even has any reason to suspect a pregnancy, and the adverse effects from the use of hormonal contraceptives, such as Plan B, that are used before a woman can even know that she is pregnant (because it prevents implantation of the fertilized egg) are burdens that a woman will be forced to endure throughout her reproductive years,” he wrote in his opinion.
“The result will essentially force an untold number of affected women to give birth without their consent,” Beatty added.
Planned Parenthood blasted the Supreme Court’s decision, saying it “will cause irreparable harm to the people of South Carolina.”
CNN’s Dianne Gallagher contributed to this report.