South Carolina lawmakers passed the long-awaited “South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act” on Feb. 17, and Gov. Henry McMaster (R) signed the bill into law on Feb. 18. The House passed the measure by a vote of 79-35, with two Democrats voting for it and two Republicans voting against it. The bill requires doctors to perform an ultrasound to check for a fetal heartbeat before performing an abortion and bans abortions if one can be detected except in the case of significant risk to the mother’s life or physical health if there is a detectable fetal anomaly that is not compatible with life, or in cases where the woman reports the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

At a triumphant ceremony to sign the bill, McMaster said the legislation had been a long time coming. He added, “If there is not a right to life, then what rights exist if not the elementary, fundamental, profound right to life? So we are here to protect that.” Standing shoulder to shoulder, abortion opponents sang “Praise God” to the tune of “Amazing Grace” after McMaster held up the new law so they could see his signature. The GOP tried for years to pass the ban, finally succeeding after the party flipped three Senate seats in last year’s election.

Immediately after Gov. McMaster signed the bill, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and Planned Parenthood Greenville Women’s Clinic filed a lawsuit which effectively blocked the measure from taking effect. Dr. Katherine Farris, Chief Medical Officer for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, commented that “abortion is a critical component of comprehensive health reproductive health care,” and politicians should not be controlling when, why, or how women can access it. Farris said that if the law is left to go into effect, it will “pose a serious threat to South Carolinians’ health and bodily autonomy.”

Jenny Black, President, and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic chimed in and added that if South Carolina politicians “truly cared about the quality of life for women and children, they would get to work to expedite the vaccine rollout, expand Medicaid, and address the dangerously high rates of maternal mortality and infant mortality in the state.” She remarked that black women die at four times the rate of white women after giving birth and said, “we will never back down from this fight.”

Following the filing of Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis, a Barack Obama appointee, put a 14-day temporary restraining order on the state’s new law, suspending it on just its second day in force. Geiger will renew the order until Mar. 9, at which time she can hold a more substantial hearing on Planned Parenthood’s request that the bill not be enforced until the group’s lawsuit against South Carolina is settled. In its argument for the restraining order, Planned Parenthood said in court documents that more than 75 women are scheduled to have abortions in South Carolina over the next three days, and the new law would prohibit most of them from happening. 

A dozen states have passed abortion restriction laws similar to the one in South Carolina. Planned Parenthood has blocked all of them from taking effect, and all are currently tied up in court. Federal law, which takes precedence over state law, presently allows abortion. The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down state laws that prevent abortions before a fetus can live outside the womb.

Planned Parenthood has accused states of using the pandemic as an excuse to ban abortions, noting on its website, “While this first round abortion bans based on states’ COVID-19 response policies seems to largely be coming to an end, that is far from the case for the pandemic itself. We can expect to see anti-abortion politicians continue to try and exploit this public health crisis to achieve their ultimate goal of banning abortion.” 

An anti-abortion protester holds up a sign as South Carolina Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg, speaks against a fetal-heartbeat abortion bill in the Statehouse on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

Planned Parenthood was started in 1916 by Margaret Sanger and once had Bill Gates Sr. at the helm. Presently, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are significant donors. In a 2003 interview with Bill Moyers, Bill Gates Jr. was asked how he came to fund “reproductive issues,” to which Gates answered, “When I was growing up, my parents were always involved in various volunteer things. My dad was head of Planned Parenthood. And it was very controversial to be involved with that. And so it’s fascinating. At the dinner table, my parents are very good at sharing the things that they were doing. And almost treating us like adults, talking about that.”

Planned Parenthood was under fire last year when it received $80 million in forgivable loans through the PPP program in violation of the relief plan’s rules. According to the SBA, 37 affiliates of the organization applied for and received the PPP funds. 127 Republican members of Congress and the SBA demanded the money be returned, stating Planned Parenthood was never eligible for the funds, which were meant to help small businesses that are struggling due to the shutdown. In 2018-19, Planned Parenthood had a record year, and the group has not shut down during the pandemic. Each clinic received between $1-$2 million. Planned Parenthood called the request to return the funds a clear political attack on their organization. Some facilities returned the money, and some refused. At the time, the Susan B. Anthony List thanked then President Trump for his previous efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and asked him to intervene in this fraudulent activity, saying:

“Across the country, Planned Parenthood refused to cease its abortion operation in the wake of the pandemic, hoarding personal protective equipment and putting its staff and women at risk. It is rich that they, in turn, feel entitled to taxpayer dollars meant to help businesses in need. After decades of feeding at the taxpayer’s trough while running the nation’s largest abortion operation, they have nearly two billion dollars in net assets. They should return this funding immediately. We thank President Trump for his strong commitment to stop taxpayer funding of abortion and abortionists like Planned Parenthood.”

A lawsuit in the United States District Court, Northern District of California, against Planned Parenthood is making its way through the courts. The case, filed last spring by David Daleiden, founder of The Center for Medical Progress, alleges that now Vice President Kamala Harris, who was a California Senator at the time, and CA Attorney General Xavier Becerra, conspired with Planned Parenthood on a politically motivated prosecution of an explosive undercover probe led by Daleiden into the fetal-tissue business, violating his First and Fourteenth Amendment civil rights. According to Daleiden, unsealed sworn testimony shows Planned Parenthood lied to Congress about fetal tissue sales.

In 2015, Daleiden released videos following a 30-month-long “Human Capital” undercover investigation, putting him at the center of a scandal accusing Planned Parenthood of transferring aborted fetal organs and tissues (fetal trafficking) for valuable consideration against the law. The videos of Planned Parenthood staff and others led to House and Senate investigations, the 2016 removal of Planned Parenthood from the Texas state Medicaid program, and prosecution of tissue-procurement companies.

The issue is ongoing. In September of last year, members of Congress sent a letter to former AG William Barr to investigate Planned Parenthood based on the unsealed documents, which revealed a possible violation of the ban on partial-birth abortions.