The South Carolina Supreme Court on Wednesday temporarily blocked the state’s six-week abortion ban from being enforced, granting a request from state abortion providers for a temporary injunction while their challenge to the law continues.
South Carolina’s law, S.1, had been in effect since June 27, when a judge lifted a federal court’s hold on the ban the week after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and Greenville Women’s Clinic, as well as two individual providers, filed their lawsuit on July 13, alleging that the six-week prohibition on the procedure violates several clauses of South Carolina’s constitution. A circuit court judge in late July declined to block the ban and recommended the lawsuit move to the state’s high court.
The South Carolina Supreme Court, in its unanimous ruling issued Wednesday, offered “no opinion on the likelihood of success on the merits.”
“To the extent we address the merits, we acknowledge an arguably close question is presented, which further supports the need to maintain the status quo (that allowed abortions during the first twelve weeks, or first trimester, of pregnancy) by granting a temporary injunction,” the court said.
S.1, passed in 2021, had banned abortions once what it called a “fetal heartbeat” is detected, which can be as early as four weeks, and more commonly, six weeks into pregnancy, with exceptions for fetal anomalies, risk to the life of the mother, or in some cases of rape or incest.
The term “fetal heartbeat” is controversial because a heart with chambers does not exist until the end of the tenth week of gestation. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says the medically accurate terms are “embryonic cardiac activity” prior to eight weeks of gestation, and “fetal cardiac activity” after eight weeks of gestation.
In practice, many people do not realize they are pregnant at the six-week point.
With the South Carolina Supreme Court’s order, medical providers can immediately return to providing abortions after six weeks while the case proceeds, according to a Planned Parenthood South Atlantic spokesperson, who said they “will return to providing abortions past six weeks as soon as possible, likely this week.”
“We applaud the court’s decision to protect the people of South Carolina from this cruel law that interferes with a person’s private medical decision. For more than six weeks, patients have been forced to travel hundreds of miles for an abortion or suffer the life-altering consequences of forced pregnancy,” Jenny Black, the head of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said in a statement Wednesday.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, a Republican, said in a statement that his office was “disappointed” by the order, but that it was “important to point out this is a temporary injunction.”
“The court didn’t rule on the constitutionality of the Fetal Heartbeat law. We will continue to defend the law,” Wilson said.
Legal fights are also underway in several other states over abortion bans and other laws that greatly limit the procedure after the US Supreme Court ended a constitutional right to an abortion on June 24.
While the six-week ban is caught up in the courts, South Carolina lawmakers are currently considering legislation that would ban most abortions ahead of a special legislative session.
A state House committee on Tuesday advanced a bill that would ban abortion at every stage of pregnancy and eliminate the exception for cases of rape and incest. The bill heads to the full House for consideration later this month.
CNN’s Tierney Sneed contributed to this report.