COLUMBIA, S.C. – A new South Carolina law banning abortions will stay on hold following a judge's order on Friday to extend a temporary restraining order.
U.S. District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis' extension runs through March 19. Her original order, issued last month, had been set to expire at midnight on Friday. On Monday, Lewis is set to preside over a hearing on Planned Parenthood’s request for an injunction halting the law altogether while a lawsuit seeking to overturn it is resolved.
Lewis initially suspended the “ South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act ” on its second day in effect, following a lawsuit from Planned Parenthood. The measure requires doctors to perform ultrasounds to check for a heartbeat in the fetus, which can typically be detected about six weeks after conception. If one is detected, the abortion can only be performed if the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest or the mother’s life is in danger.
About a dozen other states have passed similar or more restrictive abortion bans, which could take effect if the U.S. Supreme Court — with three justices appointed by Republican former President Donald Trump — were to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 court decision supporting abortion rights. Federal law supersedes state law.
Opponents of the state's ban have argued many women don't 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.
Planned Parenthood said the initial restraining order was needed in South Carolina in part because more than 75 women were scheduled to have abortions in the state over the ensuing three days, and most of them would have been banned under the new law.
At Monday's hearing, attorneys for the state are expected to argue that the law should be allowed to take effect while the lawsuit is ongoing. Earlier this week, two of those attorneys — South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and Walt Wilkins, the prosecutor for two counties in the conservative Upstate — wrote in court papers that a previous U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding a ban on partial-birth abortions “suggests that a preliminary injunction should be denied here."
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed the bill into law less than an hour after state lawmakers sent it to him. McMaster, who has asked to intervene in the lawsuit, has also sought to halt the restraining order, arguing in court papers that the suit is improper in part because Planned Parenthood filed it before he had signed the measure into law.
Planned Parenthood has indicated they plan to oppose McMaster's request to take part in the case, according to the governor's attorneys.
The new law doesn't punish a pregnant woman for getting an illegal abortion, but the person who performs the procedure can be charged with a felony, sentenced up to two years and fined $10,000 if found guilty.
South Carolina has three clinics that provide abortions in its largest metropolitan areas — Charleston, Columbia and Greenville — and none of them perform abortions after the first trimester. Two of them perform abortions only twice a week, according to Planned Parenthood.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com.MegKinnardAP.