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McMaster, SC officials appeal federal ruling that blocked abortion ban

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Emory Smith - abortion ban

Emory Smith, a lawyer representing South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, speaks outside the federal courthouse in Columbia on Friday, March 19, 2021. Wilson and other top officials are appealing a judge's ruling blocking a strict abortion ban from taking effect. File/Jamie Lovegrove/Staff

COLUMBIA — Gov. Henry McMaster and other top South Carolina officials are appealing a federal judge's ruling that blocked the state's strict abortion ban from taking effect.

U.S. District Court Judge Mary Geiger Lewis granted a preliminary injunction March 19, ruling the new law banning most abortions after around six weeks of pregnancy is likely to be found unconstitutional after lengthier court hearings.

In an April 2 filing, lawyers representing McMaster, S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas, state Attorney General Alan Wilson and Upstate solicitor Walt Wilkins notified the court of their plans to appeal Lewis' ruling to the higher Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over several East Coast states.

In a tweet about the decision to appeal, McMaster said "No fight is more worthy of our time and energy than the fight to protect life in South Carolina."

Jenny Black, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, criticized McMaster and Lucas for doubling down on trying to "make abortion nearly inaccessible."

The organization and their partners "are ready to fight back against this attack and every effort to chip away at our fundamental rights," Black said. "This law is just another example of their cruel, unconstitutional pursuit to take away health care access at any cost."

The law would prohibit abortions after a fetal or embryonic "heartbeat" is detected, which typically occurs around six to eight weeks in most pregnancies. The only exceptions would be in cases of rape or incest, or if the life of the mother or child would be in danger without an abortion.

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The only three women's health care clinics in South Carolina that perform abortions — the Greenville Women's Clinic and and two Planned Parenthood clinics, in Columbia and Charleston — immediately sued the state over the bill. Lewis temporarily halted the measure the day after McMaster signed it into law.

A few weeks later, Lewis issued an extension of the temporary block in a scathing 22-page ruling, writing that "it is nothing short of baffling when defendants here make the fanciful, misbegotten, and misguided argument that the act is constitutional, although surely, all the while knowing full well that it is not.

"This case does not present a close call," Lewis wrote. "In fact, based on the law, the court is unable to fathom how another court could decide this issue differently than how this court has decided it."

If the Fourth Circuit upholds Lewis' ruling, South Carolina could then appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Supporters of the ban have often said their ultimate goal is to get the nation's high court to overturn or amend its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that found women have a constitutional right to abortion access before the fetus can be viable outside the womb, which is generally considered to be around 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Even with the addition of three conservative justices in recent years, the Supreme Court has yet to indicate much interest in overhauling its abortion precedent. Over the last few months, the high court has repeatedly punted on deciding whether to take up a blocked Mississippi law that would ban abortions after around 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

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