COLUMBIA, S.C. — Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld a lower court decision temporarily blocking a South Carolina law that would ban abortion at six weeks of pregnancy – only about two weeks after a missed period and before many people know they’re pregnant. If the law had been allowed to go into effect, abortion would have been virtually inaccessible for nearly 1 million South Carolinians of reproductive age.
The lawsuit challenging the six-week ban was filed in February 2021, the same day South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed the bill into law. A federal district court in South Carolina issued a preliminary injunction blocking the law while the litigation proceeded.
Today, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s findings in its ruling and upheld the preliminary injunction in full. The court of appeals echoed the district court’s conclusion that “[t]his case does not present a close call.”
Today’s ruling comes at a time when abortion rights are in grave danger across the country. A Supreme Court decision is expected this summer in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which challenges Mississippi’s 15-week ban on abortion. A decision in that case could overturn or undermine the protections offered by Roe v. Wade. Should that happen, 26 states could move to ban abortion, including South Carolina.
The plaintiffs in the case are Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and Greenville Women’s Clinic, which operate the only clinics offering abortion in South Carolina. They are represented by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the law firm Burnette Shutt & McDaniel.
Statement from Jenny Black, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic:
“The court’s decision means that — for now — our patients can continue to come to us, their trusted health care providers, to access abortion and other essential health services. However, the U.S. Supreme Court could unravel today’s victory by this summer, and South Carolina lawmakers are in a race to pass a complete ban on abortion. Today’s decision helps to shield us from one of the most egregious laws, but without continued protection from the courts, South Carolinians may soon have to travel long distances to access an abortion or carry a forced pregnancy.”
Statement from Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America:
“We applaud the court’s decision today to protect South Carolinians from this unconstitutional abortion ban. We’ve seen the devastating impacts of these extreme bans in places like Texas, where for nearly six months people have been unable to access abortion after six weeks of pregnancy and are forced to flee the state for care or remain pregnant. Despite today’s important victory in South Carolina, we know our fight is far from over, as abortion access hangs by a thread across the country. By this summer, the Supreme Court could officially erase nearly 50 years of precedent and the federal constitutional right to abortion, giving state politicians like those in South Carolina the green light to control our personal reproductive decisions. Planned Parenthood and our partners have made it clear that we will never stop fighting until every person has access to safe, legal abortion — no matter who you are, how much you earn, or where you live.”
Statement from Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“The Fourth Circuit’s decision blocking South Carolina’s six-week abortion ban follows Supreme Court precedent, which has protected the right to abortion for nearly 50 years. It comes at a time when the Supreme Court is being asked to overturn Roe v. Wade and has allowed a Texas six-week abortion ban to be in effect for almost six months. Because everyone should have equal rights across the nation, next week the Senate will vote on federal legislation – The Women’s Health Protection Act – that would ensure the right to abortion is protected in every state, even if Roe is overturned. It is critical that Congress do what the Supreme Court has not.”
Statement from M. Malissa Burnette of Burnette Shutt & McDaniel:
“We are thrilled that the Court of Appeals has again blocked South Carolina from moving law backward for people in our state. We must continue to fight against every attempt to deny access to essential health care and to mandate pregnancies.”