By Holly Gatling, Executive Director, South Carolina Citizens for Life
COLUMBIA, S.C. (Tuesday, November 21, 2023) – The South Carolina Supreme Court in a unanimous and brief opinion denied the appeal of two abortion businesses to enjoin the Fetal Heartbeat and Protection Act and to determine the meaning of “fetal heartbeat.” The order was signed November 14.
All five justices signed the order: Chief Justice Donald W. Beatty, and Justices John W. Kitteridge, John Cannon Few, George C. James, Jr., and D. Garrison Hill.
Planned Parenthood and the Greenville Women’s Clinic had asked the Supreme Court to take “original jurisdiction” over the question of when a fetal heartbeat is a fetal heartbeat. Original jurisdiction means the Supreme Court agrees to decide the issue without litigation first being filed in the lower courts. The Justices stated the abortion industry can file litigation.
Planned Parenthood and the Greenville Women’s Clinic perform most of the abortions occurring in South Carolina. The abortion industry argued the fetal heart is not developed until the ninth week of gestation – well after the heartbeat can be detected.
Planned Parenthood alleged that “around 91 percent” of its clients seeking abortions in Columbia and Charleston were denied an abortion procedure from the time when the court upheld the Fetal Heartbeat Act. The Act defines the fetal heartbeat as “cardiac activity, or the steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the fetal heart, within the gestational sac.” This activity can be heard and seen on ultrasound by at least the sixth week of pregnancy, if not sooner.
On August 23, 2023, the South Carolina Supreme Court issued a 4-1 opinion upholding the Fetal Heartbeat Act. Beatty was the only dissenter. Planned Parenthood and the Greenville Women’s Clinic then asked the court to stop the law from being enforced on the grounds that the definition of fetal heartbeat is ambiguous.
The November 14, 2023, Court order reads: “Petitioners have filed a petition for original jurisdiction asking the Court to determine the meaning of the term ‘fetal heartbeat’ as used in the 2023 version of the Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act. … Petitioners further ask the Court to enjoin the enforcement of the Act. We deny the request for injunctive relief. The petition for original jurisdiction is otherwise denied without prejudice to Petitioner’s right to file an as-applied action in the circuit court.”