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South Carolina fetal heartbeat abortion law is now in effect

The law, which had been blocked since February of 2021, lowers the ban on abortions in South Carolina from 20 to 6 weeks.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina's fetal heartbeat law, which makes it significantly harder for abortions to be performed in the state, is now in effect, an immediate fallout of Friday's landmark Supreme Court ruling

Late Monday afternoon, U.S. Circuit Court Judge Mary Geiger Lewis issued a stay on her original injunction order that blocked the law, allowing the measure to be the law of the state more than a year after it was passed. 

Because of the Supreme Court's ruling last week, which in overturning Row. v. Wade threw the issue of abortion back to the states, the injunction had no legal standing. 

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, who'd filed a motion Friday minutes after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe, hailed the move. 

"Roe v. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court, the decision on legally protecting the lives of unborn babies was returned to the states, so there was no longer any basis for blocking South Carolina’s Heartbeat Law,” Wilson said in a statement. “Our state is now carrying out a government’s most sacred and fundamental duty, protecting life.”

"We’ve spent nearly a year and a half defending the Fetal Heartbeat Act in court," McMaster said. "Finally, it has gone into effect in South Carolina. This is why Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision is so important – countless unborn children will be saved because of this law."

The fetal heartbeat law was passed in February of 2021 and was immediately signed by Gov. Henry McMaster. It changed the state's abortion law to move the timeframe outlawing most abortions from 20 weeks of pregnancy--which it had been since 2016--down to 6 weeks, which is before most women realize they are pregnant. It does allow for exemptions for rape and incest if the fetus is less than 20 weeks along and in cases to save the life of a mother. 

RELATED: SC abortion laws could be changing very soon

Several groups, including Planned Parenthood, immediately challenged the law, and Lewis blocked it from going into effect. The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision knowing that the U.S. Supreme Court was set to take up the Dobbs case, the case that the Supreme Court ultimately ruled on last week.

RELATED: South Carolina leaders react to Roe v. Wade decision

The law requires doctors to perform ultrasounds to check for a heartbeat in the fetus, which can typically be detected about six weeks after conception. The measure fines doctors $10,000 for either failing to check if there's a fetal heartbeat or for performing a scan but proceeding anyway. They'd also face two years in prison on the felony charge. The bill makes no mention of penalties for women seeking an abortion.  

However, this law likely won't be in effect for long, as anti-abortion advocates in the state legislature are poised to pass more restrictive legislation. The South Carolina General Assembly allowed themselves to come back for a potential special session this summer should Roe be overturned, and that's likely to happen sometime next month. Proponents say the goal will be to not allow abortions at any stage of a pregnancy. Less clear is whether exemptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother would be allowed. 

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