Judge Denies Dismissal of Case Challenging South Carolina Abortion ‘Heartbeat Bill’

Judge Mary Geiger Lewis of the District of South Carolina denied a motion by Gov. Henry McMaster to dismiss Planned Parenthood’s amended complaint challenging the state’s Feb. 18 law banning abortions once an embryonic or fetal heartbeat is detected, mainly relying on the reasoning behind the same court’s granting of a preliminary injunction March 19 that blocked the law’s enforcement.

Planned Parenthood South Atlantic (PPSAT), Greenville Women’s Clinic (GWC), and GWC co-owner and physician Terry L. Buffkin filed their original complaint against South Carolina lawmakers the same day the state passed Senate Bill 1, or the South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act, challenging the constitutionality of the legislation, as Law Street Media reported. The bill — which was restrained from being enforced after the court granted the plaintiffs a preliminary injunction — would prevent patients from having legal abortions after embryonic or fetal cardiac activity, which can occur as early as six weeks into pregnancy, and criminally implicates physicians who perform the procedure after cardiac activity is detected.

The plaintiffs’ March 10 amended complaint added allegations related to the particular actions of McMaster, who was not an original defendant but was granted intervention March 9. McMaster’s motion to dismiss the amended complaint argued that the plaintiffs lacked standing “to assert the rights of unidentified women who might use their services.” McMaster previously invoked this argument in his defense of the bill up against the plaintiffs’ motion for the injunction, further claiming that the plaintiffs’ argument failed to state claims for why they challenged the entire legislation instead of only certain provisions.

The court said McMaster’s contentions mostly reiterated his opposing points to the plaintiffs’ motion for the initial injunction — points that the court already rejected in its granting of the injunction. Citing United States v. Aramony, the court noted that “when a court decides upon a rule of law, that decision should continue to govern the same issues in subsequent stages of the same case,” agreeing with the plaintiffs’ argument that the court “should not revisit those well-founded conclusions—and indeed cannot do so—on a motion to dismiss where the legal sufficiency of Plaintiffs’ complaint is beyond question.”

Burnette Shutt & McDaniel P.A. represents all of the plaintiffs. PPSAT additionally is represented by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the Center for Reproductive Rights additionally represents GWC and Buffkin.