South Carolina judge temporarily blocks six-week abortion ban

By Julia Harte

(Reuters) - A South Carolina judge on Friday temporarily blocked the state's new law that bans most abortions after about six weeks, ruling that it should be considered by the state Supreme Court before taking effect.

State Circuit Judge Clifton Newman granted reproductive rights groups' motion to block the legislation, which Republican Governor Henry McMaster signed into law on Thursday. The judge's ruling allows a previous law permitting abortions up to around 22 weeks to stay in effect until the state's highest court has reviewed the new ban, according to local media reports.

If the measure survives court challenges, it will cut off a flow of women from nearby southern states with more restrictive abortion laws who have been coming to South Carolina for care since the U.S. Supreme Court revoked federal abortion rights in June 2022.

The six-week abortion ban blocked on Friday is a revised version of another measure that the state Supreme Court struck down in a 3-2 decision in January, saying it violated the right to privacy enshrined in the state's constitution.

One of the Supreme Court justices in the majority on that decision has since retired, leaving it unclear how the court will rule on the new measure.

Republican state lawmakers defending the bill said in legislative hearings this week that the measure remedied the errors that caused the state Supreme Court to strike down its predecessor.

"I hope that the Supreme Court will take this matter up without delay," McMaster said in a Twitter post on Friday, vowing to "continue fighting to protect the lives of the unborn."

A spokesperson for Planned Parenthood, one of the groups that sued to block the new law, celebrated the judge's ruling.

"This is good news for the women of SC today," wrote Vicki Ringer in a Twitter post.

Opponents of the six-week ban, including three female Republican state lawmakers, said it would increase illegal abortions by not giving pregnant people sufficient time to get them legally.

"We in the South Carolina legislature are not God, we do not know what is going on in someone else's life, we do not have the right to make decisions for someone else," said Republican state Senator Katrina Shealy during a Tuesday debate on the measure.

If upheld by the state Supreme Court, the six-week ban would allow abortions up to 12 weeks in cases of rape and incest, and provide an exception for medical emergencies.

(Reporting by Julia Harte; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Frances Kerry)