S.C. Supreme Court: Fetal heartbeat law is constitutional

The South Carolina Supreme Court has upheld the state's controversial new abortion law, which bans most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy
Published: Aug. 23, 2023 at 10:13 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 23, 2023 at 4:44 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - On Wednesday the South Carolina Supreme Court published its ruling on the state’s Fetal Heartbeat Protection from Abortion Act, which outlaws abortions once a heartbeat is detected - around six weeks into a pregnancy.


The Supreme Court opined that the law, which is one of the most restrictive in the country, is constitutional in a 4-1 decision.

The ruling ends the injunction blocking the enforcement of the law, which was issued shortly after Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, the Greenville Women’s Clinic and two doctors filed a lawsuit against the state. Opponents believe the law violates the Constitution’s right to privacy and equal protection.

“[T]he legislature has found that the State has a compelling interest in protecting the lives of unborn children,” Justice John W. Kittredge wrote. “That finding is indisputable and one we must respect.”

Governor Henry McMaster, who has pushed for the legislation for years, called Wednesday’s decision a victory for “countless unborn children.”

Although the majority of the state’s highest court, which is composed of all-male justices, determined the law is constitutional, each had differing reasons for reaching the conclusion.

Justice John Cannon Few, who opposed a previous version of the act, wrote that he believes the 2023 version of the law does not constitute an unreasonable invasion of privacy.

“I find it quite significant the State approached the idea of choice in terms of promoting active family planning,” Few wrote. “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.”


Chief Justice Donald Beatty was the lone dissenter. Beatty said the debate will likely be taken up by the court again in the future, with the statutory definition of “fetal heartbeat” one such issue he expects will quickly be questioned.

“The result will essentially force an untold number of affected women to give birth without their consent,” Beatty wrote in his dissent. “I am hard-pressed to think of a greater governmental intrusion by a political body.”

The law allows limited exceptions for abortions in the event of rape, incest, a risk to the mother’s health, or fatal fetal anomalies, but critics say it is nearly identical to the version struck down by the Supreme Court in January.

Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and Greenville Women’s Clinic operate the only three abortion clinics in the state. Prior to the law, the Greenville Women’s Clinic provided medication abortion up to 10 weeks and abortion by procedure up to 14 weeks.

Planned Parenthood said they began turning away patients at clinics on Wednesday while they work to fully understand the implications of the ban. During the time when the law was first in effect before the injunction, doctors said women were traveling hundreds of miles to obtain abortions outside the state.

They announced plans to protest at the State House on Wednesday at 5 p.m.

Below is the full ruling from the S.C. Supreme Court:


Governor Henry McMaster: “The Supreme Court’s ruling marks a historic moment in our state’s history and is the culmination of years of hard work and determination by so many in our state to ensure that the sanctity of life is protected. 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.”

Attorney General Alan Wilson: “The South Carolina Supreme Court’s historic decision to uphold the state’s Fetal Heartbeat Act is a huge win in our efforts to protect the unborn and save innocent lives. I appreciate all the hard work of our state legislature and am proud of the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office team that defended this law in court.”

Planned Parenthood South Atlantic CEO Jenny Black: “Today’s decision puts the dangerous politicization of South Carolina’s highest court on full display and will cause irreparable harm to the people of South Carolina. This abortion ban is nearly identical to the ban struck down by this court just months ago — the only thing that has changed is the makeup of the court. Planned Parenthood South Atlantic’s doors remain open, and we will continue to provide abortion care in South Carolina under the severe restrictions of this law, but we know that’s not enough. This abortion ban takes away people’s ability to control what happens to their bodies, forcing many South Carolinians to remain pregnant against their will. Planned Parenthood and our partners will keep fighting for our patients’ ability to control their own bodies, lives, and futures — no matter what.”

Rep. Jeff Duncan: “Today’s ruling from the S.C. Supreme Court is a monumental win for the right to life. I commend the South Carolina General Assembly for ensuring the passage of a Constitutionally sound bill that will stop the killing of babies once a heartbeat is detected. I’m grateful for all the South Carolinians who devoted years of work that culminated with this ruling to save innumerable lives from the ruthless practice of abortion.”

Center for Reproductive Rights CEO Nancy Northup: “With today’s decision, the court has turned their backs on South Carolinians and their fundamental rights. The South Carolina Supreme Court took an extreme step backwards by letting this six-week ban go into effect, despite striking down a nearly identical ban just seven months ago. A change in the court’s makeup shouldn’t change the enduring protections of South Carolina’s constitution. South Carolinians’ rights should not be up for debate. Under this cruel ban, people across the South will be forced to travel even further just to get the essential healthcare they need. The right to make deeply personal health care decisions should not depend on where you live, and we will not stop fighting for reproductive freedom in South Carolina and across the country.”

Rep. William Timmons: “Today in South Carolina, life wins. This victory will ensure our state is a voice for the voiceless and protects the unborn.”

Senate President Thomas Alexander: “Today’s Supreme Court decision upholding the Fetal Heartbeat Act is a validation of the hard work of the South Carolina Senate in passing a law that would protect unborn human life once a heartbeat was detected. By working hard to pass a law that could stand up to almost assured legal challenges, South Carolina now has the strongest protections for unborn human life in more than a generation.”

Rep. Ralph Norman: “Today’s ruling from the State Supreme Court is welcome news. This law makes reasonable exceptions for cases where the mother’s health is in danger, fatal fetal anomalies, and medical emergencies. It also affords extended consideration for victims of rape and incest. With those considerations in place, I strongly believe the use of abortion as an elective procedure to kill an unborn child – as a method of birth control – is neither ‘family planning’ nor ‘medical care.’ It’s wrong. So I’m pleased the South Carolina Legislature has crafted legislation to protect unborn children that has withstood judicial scrutiny from our state’s Supreme Court.”

House Speaker Rep. Murrell Smith: “Today’s decision by the Supreme Court is a victory for life in South Carolina. The Court’s recognition and reinforcement of the role that separation of powers plays in our state’s government cannot be overlooked. In this case, I believe the Court did its job by letting the General Assembly do our job as well.”

Stay with FOX Carolina for updates on this developing story.