The South Carolina Supreme Court made a significant decision on Wednesday, lifting a temporary block on one of the state’s pro-life laws. Four justices came together in agreement, while one held a dissenting viewpoint, as reflected in three separate opinions.
The legislation in question, referred to as the “Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act,” protects the right to life of most unborn children effective as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, a time when early cardiac activity becomes detectable in a fetus or embryo.
In 2022, a narrow 3-2 majority ruled that the act of killing an unborn child while in her mother’s womb was a fundamental constitutional right. The legislature quickly reacted, passing a new heartbeat law as the governor urged for passage of judicial reform to reign in a liberal activist court in a conservative state.
Following the signing of the new Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act by Republican Governor Henry McMaster in May, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and several other abortionists filed a lawsuit in state court, aiming to halt its implementation.
The state promptly filed an emergency petition, urging the South Carolina Supreme Court, comprising a newly appointed justice, to expedite the resolution of the case.
The pushback worked. Justice Kaye Hearn, was forced to retire after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 72 and Justice Garrison Hill took her place. Justice Hill, voted with the new majority to uphold the heartbeat law.
While the legacy media highlighted the fact that the South Carolina court is an all-male court, the fact that the US Supreme Court decision which mandated abortion in 1973 was also an all-male is almost never mentioned.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Governor McMaster expressed, “With this legal victory, we prioritize the lives of countless unborn children and reaffirm South Carolina’s commitment as one of the nation’s most pro-life states.”
The law features provisions for exceptions that safeguard the life of the pregnant woman but unfortunately also leaves some disabled children unprotected. Exceptions extending up to 12 weeks also allow taking the life of innocent children conceived in rape and incest. Physicians who knowingly disregard the law may face serious consequences, including felony charges, imprisonment, fines, and revocation of their medical license by the State Board of Medical Examiners.
One of the justices, Justice John Kittredge, authored an opinion in the ruling, acknowledging that the 2023 Act does impede upon a woman’s privacy and autonomy. However, he further elaborated that the state legislature has made a deliberate policy choice, asserting that at a certain stage of pregnancy, the interests of the unborn child in living outweigh the woman’s interest in privacy and autonomy. Taking into account the legal framework and judicial perspective, Justice Kittredge asserted that the 2023 Act is not unreasonable and does not violate the state constitution.
Justice John Few, while agreeing to reverse the block, contributed a distinct opinion. He highlighted that the new legislation encourages proactive family planning.
“The 2023 Act empowers couples who wish to avoid proceeding with a pregnancy to make that decision ahead of time through enhanced access to contraceptives. Additionally, it encourages the use of Plan B and early pregnancy testing, aiming to meet the statutory ‘fetal heartbeat’ deadline in situations where contraceptives prove ineffective,” he wrote.
Acknowledging potential disagreements with his analysis, Justice Few emphasized that constitutional analysis is a matter of individual judgment, not a collective endeavor.
Chief Justice Donald Beatty held a dissenting stance, cautioning against the erosion of judicial independence.
Furthermore, Chief Justice Beatty expressed concerns about the law placing disproportionate responsibility on women for unplanned pregnancies. Beatty pointed out situations where birth control methods fail or where individuals lack access to contraceptives due to factors such as financial constraints or limited medical facilities.
His dissenting opinion voiced apprehension that the outcome could force numerous affected women into childbirth without their explicit consent. Like most pro-abortion jurists, Beatty’s dissent disregarded the fundamental right to life of the preborn child and the dehumanization necessary to justify abortion.
The full opinion in Planned Parenthood v. South Carolina can be read here: https://www.sccourts.org/opinions/HTMLFiles/SC/28174.pdf