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Following last month’s ruling banning most abortions in the state, providers again ask Court for clarity

COLUMBIA, SC — Today, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, Greenville Women’s Clinic, and two physicians filed a new legal challenge asking the South Carolina Supreme Court to resolve ambiguity raised in its decision to uphold a ban on abortion that has forced providers to stop providing abortion care after approximately six weeks of pregnancy. The filing is in response to the uncertainty of the definition of “fetal heartbeat” in the law, as highlighted by the Court in last month’s majority opinion, and comes after the Court denied abortion providers’ request for rehearing over the same issue.

In the majority opinion that allowed the abortion ban to go into effect, the Court said it was “leav[ing] for another day” the critical question of the meaning of “fetal heartbeat” and the point in pregnancy at which the ban applies. In the lawsuit, abortion providers assert that the ban should apply at a later point in pregnancy, rather than only when embryonic electrical activity can first be detected via ultrasound (around approximately six weeks of pregnancy). The South Carolina Supreme Court’s decision to uphold this ban represented a reversal from the Court’s January opinion, which struck down a nearly identical abortion ban. 

Statement from Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, Greenville Women’s Clinic, and Center for Reproductive Rights:

“At a time when the entire American South has been consumed by abortion bans, the vast majority of South Carolinians now have to travel long distances out of state for abortion care or remain pregnant against their will. The Court may be able to punt on a critical question raised in its own decision to uphold a dangerous abortion ban, but health care providers and patients need answers now. Thousands of people are depending on us to fight for their ability to get the health care they need and deserve, and we hope the Court will address the chaos and confusion caused by last month’s decision.”

Because of Senate Bill 474’s significant criminal and civil penalties, South Carolina abortion providers have been forced to turn away patients who need abortion care after about six weeks of pregnancy — before many people know they are pregnant and before the major components of a heart have developed. Since the ban went into effect on August 23, Greenville Women’s Clinic has been forced to turn away approximately half of the patients who have come into the clinic for abortion care. Planned Parenthood South Atlantic has been forced to turn away approximately 90% of the patients seeking abortion care at their Columbia and Charleston health centers in the same time period.

As a result, access to abortion has been severely limited in the state as South Carolinians who need care past the earliest stages of pregnancy are now forced to travel out of state, seek abortion outside the health care system, or suffer the life-altering consequences of continuing a pregnancy against their will. Research shows that being denied a wanted abortion limits peoples' education and decreases the amount of money they can earn, with the economic consequences extending well into their children's lives. Patients across the country and here in South Carolina have received substandard care for miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, and even cancer treatment because of uncertainty created by restrictive abortion laws, which is particularly dangerous in a state like South Carolina, which already has the 8th highest maternal mortality rate in the nation and a severe shortage of OBGYNs.

The plaintiffs in the case are Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and Greenville Women’s Clinic — which operate the only clinics offering abortion in South Carolina — and two physicians who provide abortion in South Carolina. They are represented by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the South Carolina law firm Burnette Shutt & McDaniel.