By Holly Gatling, Executive Director, South Carolina Citizens for Life
Pro-life South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster today signed the Fetal Heartbeat and Protection Act (S474), just hours after the Senate agreed with changes made by the House last week to strengthen the language that protects most unborn children from abortion once the heartbeat can be detected.
“We applauded Governor McMaster, a long-time pro-life supporter for signing into law the Fetal Heartbeat Protection Act,” said Lisa Van Riper, president of South Carolina Citizens for Life. “This act not only protects unborn children with a detectable heartbeat from abortion on demand, but also signals that the child in the womb is a welcome member of our society.”
Governor McMaster was joined by members of the General Assembly and members of the pro-life community at the signing ceremony. S474 protects life by prohibiting abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected, with exceptions for rape or incest during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, medical emergencies, or fatal fetal anomalies.
“With my signature, the Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act is now law and will begin saving the lives of unborn children immediately,” said Gov. McMaster. “This is a great day for life in South Carolina, but the fight is not over. We stand ready to defend this legislation against any challenges and are confident we will succeed. The right to life must be preserved, and we will do everything we can to protect it.”
“The law is effective immediately, but it already facing a legal challenge,” CNN’s Sydney Kashiwagi and Rebekah Riess reported. “Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, along with the Greenville Women’s Clinic and two physician plaintiffs, has filed a suit in state court to try to stop the law.”
A hearing is scheduled for 10:30 Friday in the Richland County Court of Common Pleas.
The Fetal Heartbeat Act is the first pro-life law passed in South Carolina since the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022, in what is known as the Dobbs v. Jackson decision. The high court found there is no right to abortion in the U.S. Constitution and said it is up to the individual states to decide abortion laws.
Although the abortion industry has already challenged the law, if it withstands the legal challenge, the law could save hundreds of unborn babies’ lives every month and stop most out-of-state abortion traffic currently flooding into South Carolina. Georgia and Florida both have enacted fetal heartbeat protection laws. North Carolina limits abortions at 12 weeks gestational age but has a 72-hour waiting period. South Carolina has a 24-hour waiting period between the time a woman schedules an abortion and the procedure can be performed.
The South Carolina Supreme Court struck down a similar law in 2021 by a 3-2 vote. The judges concluded that heartbeat law violated the South Carolina Constitution’s right to privacy clause.
Three factors have changed since that decision. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe on June 24, 2024; the make up of the South Carolina Supreme Court has changed; and the new Fetal Heartbeat law (S474) was written to address the issue raised by the South Carolina Supreme Court about the 2021 law.
In an interview Wednesday with Dr. Tony Beam on his podcast Truth in Politics and Culture, Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey noted that while there is no “right to privacy” in the U.S. Constitution, the South Carolina Constitution has an explicit right to privacy, but it has “absolutely nothing to do with abortion.” The amendment was added to the state constitution in the early 1970s before the lethal Roe v. Wade. The South Carolina privacy clause was intended to protect individuals from government overreach into private bank records, phone records, and other privacy issues unrelated to abortion.
Senator Massey said, “I think we’re going to have a pretty good idea in the next few weeks,” of what to expect from the South Carolina Supreme Court. He said a lower court probably will enjoin or stop the Heartbeat law from taking effect. That injunction can be appealed to the State Supreme Court.
“I suspect what’s going to happen is that within the next few weeks, you’re going to get a ruling from the [State] Supreme Court on the injunction as to whether to maintain the injunction,” while the law is challenged or to allow the law to take effect.
During the nearly five hours of contentious debate Tuesday, Senator Mike Reichenbach, R-Florence, gave his personal testimony of being born to a 14-year-old mother who placed him for adoption. He said he was speaking for the unborn and urged the Senators to vote for the life-saving law. Listen to his pro-life story here. Listen at the 4:18:12 mark.