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

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - A physician assistant prepares a syringe with the monkeypox vaccine for a patient during a v...
Associated Press

Some officials now say monkeypox elimination unlikely in US

Some U.S. health officials are conceding that monkeypox is probably not going away anytime soon as it has become so widespread.
17 hours ago
Associated Press

Missouri man convicted of killing 2 women, 2 children

ST. CHARLES, Mo. (AP) — Jurors convicted a St. Louis man of murder Friday in the 2018 shooting of his girlfriend, her two children and her mother. A St. Charles County jury deliberated less than two hours before finding Richard Darren Emery, 50, guilty of four counts of first-degree murder. Sentencing is scheduled for Saturday. […]
17 hours ago
FILE - A gasoline price board is displayed at a gas station in San Francisco, Tuesday, July 19, 202...
Associated Press

Newsom relaxes refinery rules as California gas prices soar

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday announced that oil refineries could start selling more polluting winter-blend gasoline ahead of schedule to ease soaring fuel prices, directly contradicting his own goals for reducing climate emissions. The average cost of a gallon of gas was $6.30 in California on Friday, far above the […]
17 hours ago
Associated Press

Ex-president of Kentucky college files lawsuit over firing

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The former president of a small Kentucky college who was fired after allegations that he engaged in sexual misconduct involving employees has filed a lawsuit against the school claiming defamation and breach of contract. William A. Jones, who was fired in November as president of Georgetown College, denies any sexual misconduct […]
17 hours ago
Teammates gather around Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) after an injury during the fi...
Associated Press

NFL’s handling of concussions questioned after Tua’s injury

The NFL’s handling of concussions has evolved dramatically from the days when players were handed smelling salts on the bench and sent back into the game. The league and the NFL Players Association have implemented extensive protocols and hired unaffiliated neurotrauma consultants (UNC) to work with team physicians at each game to diagnose concussions. Still, […]
17 hours ago
Associated Press

US defense chief in Hawaii amid distrust after fuel spill

HONOLULU (AP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited Hawaii this week amid lingering community frustration and distrust after jet fuel from a military storage facility last year spilled into Pearl Harbor’s drinking water, poisoned thousands of military families and threatened the purity of Honolulu’s water supply. Austin was in Hawaii to meet with his […]
17 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
Appeals court mulls arguments on South Carolina abortion law