South Carolina’s law bans abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. While cardiac activity can be detected by ultrasounds around six weeks into pregnancy, the lawsuit filed in state circuit court on Monday argues the court should interpret the South Carolina law to mean
The law does not give an exact week at which abortion is banned, instead prohibiting it when a “fetal heartbeat” can be detected. It defines “heartbeat” as “cardiac activity, or the steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the fetal heart, within the gestational sac.”
The lawsuit, filed by Taylor Shelton and Planned Parenthood South Atlantic’s chief medical officer, argues there is ambiguity about whether the state bans abortion at the detection of the earliest embryonic electrical activity — which is usually six weeks of pregnancy, as dated from a patient’s last menstrual period — or at the point when
the heart forms, after approximately nine weeks of pregnancy.
But Republicans in the state legislature have argued six weeks is the standard definition and that even Planned Parenthood attorneys have referred to the law using that language.
The South Carolina Supreme Court last summer upheld the ban after striking down a similar version earlier in the year. The justices later declined to take up Planned Parenthood’s request to clarify how far along in a pregnancy an abortion can be legally performed.
In upholding the ban, the state Supreme Court majority wrote that they were leaving “for another day” a decision on when specifically fetal heartbeat can be detected, and whether or not the definition refers to the point at which a fetal heart has been formed.
According to Planned Parenthood, Shelton is the first named individual to file a lawsuit directly challenging abortion restrictions outside of the context of medical exceptions since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022.