Vicki Ringer, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic in South Carolina, speaks to reporters on Jan. 5 in Columbia, S.C. (James Pollard/AP)
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The South Carolina Supreme Court struck down the state’s six-week abortion ban on Thursday, ruling that the law that restricted abortions after detectable fetal cardiac activity “an unreasonable restriction upon a woman’s right to privacy” and unconstitutional.

The 3-2 decision means abortion in South Carolina is now legal until around 20 weeks of pregnancy. The ruling comes nearly two years after the state enacted the law, known as the Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act, which banned abortion after six weeks except in limited cases like pregnancies that would endanger the pregnant person’s life or that were the result of rape or incest.

“Few decisions in life are more private than the decision whether to terminate a pregnancy. Our privacy right must be implicated by restrictions on that decision,” said Justice Kaye G. Hearn, writing for the majority.

The decision by the state’s highest court comes as fierce legislative and judicial battles over abortion access are being waged across the country more than six months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

The fight over ‘heartbeat’ further inflames tensions in abortion battle

The South Carolina law was blocked by a federal court shortly after it was signed into law in 2021. But a federal judge allowed it to go into effect a year later. The state law was quickly challenged again by physicians Katherine Farris and Terry Buffkin, the Greenville Women’s Clinic and Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.

Abortion rights supporters praised Thursday’s decision as a hard-won victory.

“We are relieved that this dangerous law has been relegated to the history books and can no longer threaten patients and providers in South Carolina,” Alexis McGill Johnson, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “Reproductive health care, including abortion, is a fundamental right that should never be subject to the whims of power-hungry politicians.”

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R), who signed the law in 2021, criticized the court’s decision, saying on Twitter that the state Supreme Court “found a right in our Constitution which was never intended by the people of South Carolina.”

“With this opinion, the Court has clearly exceeded its authority. The people have spoken through their elected representatives multiple times on this issue,” McMaster said.

Republican lawmaker Jeff Duncan of South Carolina said he was “extremely disappointed” with the decision and referred to “activist judges” in the state’s Supreme Court.