Appeals court mulls arguments on South Carolina abortion law

Jan 27, 2022, 4:47 PM | Updated: 5:33 pm

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — An appellate court heard arguments Thursday in Planned Parenthood’s legal challenge to South Carolina’s new abortion law, with attorneys for the state arguing the nonprofit doesn’t have standing to bring the case.

The nonprofit group, which immediately challenged the law after Republican Gov. Henry McMaster signed it last year, countered that it stood on legal bedrock.

The “South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act” is similar to abortion restriction laws previously passed in a dozen states that became tied up in the courts.

South Carolina’s law requires doctors to perform ultrasounds to check for fetal cardiac activity, which can typically be detected about six weeks into pregnancy. Once activity is detected, the abortion can only be performed if the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest, or if the mother’s life is in danger.

At issue in the appeal is a decision by U.S. District Judge Mary Lewis to put the entire law on hold, with attorneys for the state arguing that it was improper to stall all parts of the measure, rather than just the “heartbeat” provision.

The bulk of the government’s virtual argument before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals centered on its notion that Planned Parenthood doesn’t have legal standing to bring the challenge on behalf of women who would potentially be prevented from getting abortions.

Representing South Carolina, attorney Christopher Mills said a prospective mother could ultimately choose to a sue a provider who didn’t follow the law, a situation he said would create a dire conflict of interest.

“They don’t have third-party standing because they have a unique conflict of interest in trying to deprive the women they supposedly represent of statutory rights against them,” Mills said, of Planned Parenthood. “There is no case that sanctions third-party standing in the face of this sort of conflict of interest.”

Julie Murray, Planned Parenthood’s appellate advocate, argued that Supreme Court rulings support the group acting in its current legal role.

“It is bedrock law that litigants have third-party standing to challenge a statute that directly restricts their activities,” Murray said, citing a case where the high court had “directly addressed the third-party standing of abortion providers … and found that third-party standing did apply.”

“We would urge your honors … to firmly reject the argument that’s been put forward by the governor,” Murray said.

It will likely be several months before the court issues its ruling from the arguments, which come as states around the country await U.S. Supreme Court action in another case that could dramatically limit abortion rights overall. Last month, attorneys for Mississippi asked the high court to uphold its ban on most abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy.

The state also asked justices to overrule the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case and the follow-up 1992 decision that prevents states from banning abortion before viability, the point around 24 weeks of pregnancy when a fetus can survive outside the womb.

South Carolina’s law has been blocked, pending the outcome of that case. If the court simply upholds Mississippi’s ban, other Republican-governed states would likely enact similar measures, while any demise of Roe could prompt more sweeping bans.

Texas’ abortion law, the most restrictive in the nation, also bans abortions as early as six weeks but, unlike South Carolina’s law, has no exceptions for rape or incest. Legal challenges against that measure are ongoing, but the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed Texas’ law to remain in effect.

Opponents of such laws have argued that many women do not know they are pregnant at six weeks. And, they say, with such an early deadline, the law gives women little time to consider whether to have an abortion.

Medical experts say the early cardiac activity is not an actual heartbeat but rather an initial flutter of electric movement within cells in an embryo. They say the heart doesn’t begin to form until the fetus is at least nine weeks old, decrying efforts to promote abortion bans by relying on medical inaccuracies.


Meg Kinnard can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Arizona will not approve new housing construction on the fast-growing edges of metro Phoenix that r...

Associated Press

Arizona Senate passes plan to manage rural groundwater, but final success is uncertain

A plan to manage rural groundwater passed the Arizona Senate amid concerns about the availability of sufficient water for future generations.

13 hours ago

A woman pauses while shopping at a Kohl's store in Clifton, N.J., Jan. 26, 2024. On Thursday, Feb. ...

Associated Press

Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation gauge picked up last month in sign of still-elevated prices

An inflation gauge favored by the Federal Reserve increased in January, the latest sign that the slowdown in U.S. consumer price increases is occurring unevenly from month to month.

1 day ago

This undated image provided by Mikel Desmond shows his brother Marcus Tessier, who turned up in Dem...

Associated Press

Missing teen with autism found in New Mexico, about 200 miles away from his Arizona home

A missing teen with autism has been found in New Mexico — about 200 miles away from his home in southern Arizona.

1 day ago

A newly released report on last year’s fatal crash involving a pickup truck and a group of bicycl...

Associated Press

Report suggests steering of vehicle that caused fatal Goodyear bicycle crash worked fine

A new report on last year’s fatal Goodyear bicycle crash has cast doubts about the driver’s claim the vehicle’s steering locked up.

2 days ago

Israeli Embassy...

Associated Press

US airman dies after setting himself ablaze outside Israeli Embassy in Israel-Hamas war protest

An active-duty member of the U.S. Air Force has died after he set himself ablaze outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C.

4 days ago

Biden and Trump to visit Mexico border Thursday immigration...

Associated Press

Biden and Trump both plan trips to the Mexico border Thursday, dueling for advantage on immigration

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will make dueling trips to the U.S-Mexico border on Thursday.

4 days ago

Sponsored Articles


Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 

(KTAR News Graphic)...

Boys & Girls Clubs

KTAR launches online holiday auction benefitting Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley

KTAR is teaming up with The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley for a holiday auction benefitting thousands of Valley kids.


Canvas Annuity

Interest rates may have peaked. Should you buy a CD, high-yield savings account, or a fixed annuity?

Interest rates are the highest they’ve been in decades, and it looks like the Fed has paused hikes. This may be the best time to lock in rates for long-term, low-risk financial products like fixed annuities.

Appeals court mulls arguments on South Carolina abortion law