Twenty states led by Alabama are supporting South Carolina’s defense of a new abortion law, arguing that a federal judge was wrong to pause the entire measure instead of just the portion being challenged in court.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall argued that U.S. District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis was wrong to pause the entire measure in a July 13 filing with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (pdf) on behalf of the states.
“South Carolina’s fetal heartbeat law was struck down in an error-filled district court opinion,” Marshall wrote. “Although Planned Parenthood and the other plaintiffs challenged only the law’s regulation of abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, the district court enjoined the law in its entirety—including portions of the law that dozens of other states already have and regularly enforce.”
The judge’s ruling, Marshall wrote, “treads on South Carolina’s sovereign ability to decide for itself the purposes of its legislation” and “aggrandizes the judicial power by treating the court’s injunction of the challenged provision as erasing it entirely so the whole Act collapses.”
Joining Attorney General Marshall in signing the amicus brief are attorneys general from Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia.
Marshall noted that at least 24 states require an abortion provider to offer to display the image from an ultrasound so the pregnant mother can view it.
“Yet the district court enjoined South Carolina’s ultrasound disclosure law,” he wrote.
“Same for South Carolina’s requirement that abortion providers make the fetal heartbeat audible for the pregnant mother if she would like to hear it— a law that at least 16 other states have also enacted,” he added. “And same for South Carolina’s requirement that an ultrasound be performed before an abortion is conducted—a requirement shared by at least 12 other states.”
The Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act was signed into law earlier this year by South Carolina Republican Gov. Henry McMaster.
Under the law, abortions are generally prohibited once a fetal heartbeat is detected. If cardiac activity is detected, the abortion can be performed only if the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest, or the mother’s life was in danger.
The law also requires abortion providers to give the mother an opportunity have an ultrasound and view the sonogram, hear the fetal heartbeat, and receive other information about her unborn child. Fetal heartbeats can be detected as soon as six weeks after conception, according to americanpregnancy.org.
Planned Parenthood is suing over the measure and the entire law was blocked from taking effect amid the lawsuit.
But McMaster and the other defendants in the lawsuit filed an appeal (pdf) last week, arguing the lawsuit was filed by third parties, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and the Greenville Women’s Clinic, that don’t have the legal standing to contest the law’s constitutionality.
The state’s attorneys wrote in an appellate filing that Lewis’ decision to halt the entire measure during litigation “oversteps the bounds of federal judicial power.”
“This Court should not countenance such a judicial intrusion upon South Carolina’s legitimate sovereign interests in the form of an unnecessary nullification of state law,” attorneys for the state wrote.
McMaster’s office also released a statement urging supporters to defend South Carolina’s Fetal Heartbeat Act against “every challenge at every level.”
“As I’ve said before, the right to life is the most precious of rights and the most fragile. We must never let it be taken for granted or taken away. And we must protect life at every opportunity, regardless of cost or inconvenience,” he wrote.
Several other groups have submitted filings in support of South Carolina, including the Southern Baptist Convention and an anti-abortion group of obstetricians and gynecologists.
Abortions previously were banned in South Carolina after 20 weeks.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 90 per cent of abortions take place in the first 13 weeks of a woman’s pregnancy.