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S.C. abortion ban now law; challenge filed

by JEFFREY COLLINS THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | February 19, 2021 at 4:37 a.m.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signs into law a bill banning almost all abortions in the state Thursday in Columbia. On the same day, Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit to stop the measure from going into effect. The state House approved the “South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act” on a 79-35 vote Wednesday and gave it a final procedural vote Thursday before sending it to McMaster. (AP/Jeffrey Collins)

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina's governor signed a bill Thursday banning most abortions, one of his top priorities since he took office more than four years ago. Planned Parenthood immediately sued, effectively preventing the law from taking effect.

The South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act is similar to abortion restriction laws that a dozen states have previously passed. All are tied up in court. Federal law, which takes precedence over state law, currently allows abortion.

"There's a lot of happy hearts beating across South Carolina right now," Republican Gov. Henry McMaster proclaimed during a ceremony at the Statehouse attended by lawmakers who made the proposal a reality.

Immediately after he signed the bill, legislators and members of the public, standing shoulder to shoulder and wearing masks to protect against the coronavirus, began singing the words "Praise God" to the tune of "Amazing Grace."

The House passed the bill 79-35 on Wednesday after hours of emotional speeches from supporters and opponents, and gave the measure final approval Thursday.

Moments after Thursday's vote, Planned Parenthood announced that it was filing a lawsuit. The South Carolina law, like those of other states that are being challenged, is "blatantly unconstitutional," said Jenny Black, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksDzTptoURE]

Supporters of restrictive abortion laws are trying to get the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court in the hopes that the court could overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision establishing abortion rights. The Supreme Court has previously ruled that abortion is legal until a fetus is viable outside the womb -- months after a heartbeat can be detected, Black said.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson issued a statement Thursday saying his office "will vigorously defend this law in court because there is nothing more important than protecting life." He stood near McMaster as the governor signed the bill.

Abortion opponents have pushed for the ban for years, but it got stuck on a procedural hurdle in the Senate. Republicans gained three seats in the Senate in November's election and the bill was tabbed "Senate Bill No. 1" to show it was the top priority.

"We're about to do what I've been trying to do for 25 years: shut down the abortion industry in South Carolina," Republican Sen. Larry Grooms said moments before the governor signed the bill.

Democrats say Republicans wasted taxpayer money by passing a bill that everyone knew would be challenged in court. They also argue that there are more important issues needing their attention, such as covid-19, health care and education.

"We're tired of the hypocrisy," said House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, adding that Democrats have had enough of lawmakers across the aisle telling them they don't care about life.

"We care about life until death. We care about birth. ... We care about people eating, people not dying because they can't get vaccines," he said.

The lawsuit by Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights argues that South Carolina's new law "is in flagrant violation of nearly five decades of settled Supreme Court precedent." The suit says a high rate of women, especially Black Americans, die during or immediately after childbirth in South Carolina. The abortion ban would fall hardest on low-income women, who wouldn't be able to travel to another state where abortion was still permitted, the suit says.

A hearing to determine if the law should be suspended while the lawsuit is being heard is scheduled for this afternoon.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, right, fist bumps South Carolina Citizens for Life Executive Director Holly Gatling, left, before McMaster signed a bill banning almost all abortions in the state on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. On the same day, Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit to stop the measure from going into effect. The state House approved the “South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act” on a 79-35 vote Wednesday and gave it a final procedural vote Thursday before sending it to McMaster.  (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, right, fist bumps South Carolina Citizens for Life Executive Director Holly Gatling, left, before McMaster signed a bill banning almost all abortions in the state on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. On the same day, Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit to stop the measure from going into effect. The state House approved the “South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act” on a 79-35 vote Wednesday and gave it a final procedural vote Thursday before sending it to McMaster.  (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Greenwood pastor Tony Foster prays during a ceremony where South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed a bill banning almost all abortions in the state on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Columbia, S.C.  On the same day, Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit to stop the measure from going into effect.  (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Greenwood pastor Tony Foster prays during a ceremony where South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed a bill banning almost all abortions in the state on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. On the same day, Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit to stop the measure from going into effect. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster holds up a bill banning almost all abortions in the state after he signed it into law on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. On the same day, Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit to stop the measure from going into effect.  The state House approved the “South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act” on a 79-35 vote Wednesday and gave it a final procedural vote Thursday before sending it to McMaster.  (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster holds up a bill banning almost all abortions in the state after he signed it into law on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. On the same day, Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit to stop the measure from going into effect. The state House approved the “South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act” on a 79-35 vote Wednesday and gave it a final procedural vote Thursday before sending it to McMaster.  (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Supporters of a proposal that would ban almost all abortions in South Carolina gather outside the House chamber to thank lawmakers for passing the bill on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. The governor plans to sign the bill.
Supporters of a proposal that would ban almost all abortions in South Carolina gather outside the House chamber to thank lawmakers for passing the bill on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. The governor plans to sign the bill.
South Carolina Rep. David Hiott, R-Pickens, says a prayer as the House votes on a bill that would ban most abortions in the state on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021 in Columbia, S.C. The bill will soon go to the governor. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
South Carolina Rep. David Hiott, R-Pickens, says a prayer as the House votes on a bill that would ban most abortions in the state on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021 in Columbia, S.C. The bill will soon go to the governor. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
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