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Baptist leaders applaud S.C. fetal heartbeat law

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (BP) – Southern Baptist public policy leaders commended the latest early ban on abortions to gain approval in a state.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed into law Thursday (Feb. 18) a bill to prohibit abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which could occur as early as six weeks into pregnancy. McMaster’s signature – which placed the law into effect immediately – came the same day the House of Representatives passed the measure in a 74-39 vote. The Senate voted 30-13 for the legislation in late January.

The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, two of the country’s leading abortion rights organizations, joined a Columbia law firm on behalf of two abortion providers in the state Thursday to ask a federal court to block enforcement of the ban. The lawsuit contended a temporary restraining order is needed because 75 women are scheduled to have abortions in South Carolina during the next three days, the Associated Press reported. A hearing was scheduled for Friday afternoon, according to AP.

Multiple states have enacted fetal heartbeat bans, but courts have blocked all of them.

“Protecting vulnerable human beings from violence is the most basic responsibility of government,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), in praising the new law. “The leaders in South Carolina are moving their state toward justice for preborn children.”

The heartbeat measures enacted by South Carolina and other states “are an achievement for the dignity of the preborn and for the shaping of the nation’s conscience,” he said in written comments.

Tony Beam, director of the office of public policy for the South Carolina Baptist Convention, said he had “many conversations” with Republican leaders in the legislature in support of the proposal.

“South Carolina Baptists played an important part in seeing this bill become law, first by voting for pro-life senators and House members, and second, by contacting them and letting them know they would stand with them to protect life,” Beam said in written remarks.

Moore said he was “particularly grateful for the leadership over many years” of Beam, who serves as an ERLC trustee. “Without his perseverance and Christ-like persuasiveness, along with countless others, this legislation would have never happened,” Moore said.

Beam – also senior director of church and community engagement and public affairs for North Greenville University, a Baptist school – interviewed the state’s attorney general, Alan Wilson, Friday morning on the radio show he co-hosts, “Christian Worldview with Tony and Hannah.”

Wilson “reiterated his commitment to fight for this bill all the way” to the U.S. Supreme Court, Beam said. In a Thursday statement, Wilson said his office “will vigorously defend this law in court because there is nothing more important than protecting life.”

“As Baptists and as born-again believers, we look forward to seeing this bill successfully defended in the courts, and we look forward to the day that all life with a beating heart is protected under South Carolina law,” Beam said.

Abortion rights advocates criticized the new law.

CRR President Nancy Northup said the ban “blatantly defies nearly 50 years of Supreme Court precedent” initiated by the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

“There is a new administration in the White House, but reproductive rights are still under attack across the country,” Northup said in a written statement. “We expect many more anti-abortion laws to be passed this year and we will be in court to stop them.”

The new South Carolina law – the Fetal Heartbeat Protection From Abortion Act – requires a test for a heartbeat in an unborn child before an abortion. If a heartbeat is detected, an abortion is prohibited with these exceptions: When intended to prevent the death or the serious risk of “a substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function” of the mother; when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest and the unborn child appears less than 20 weeks’ gestation; or there is a “fetal anomaly” that is incompatible with maintaining life after birth. The abortion doctor must report alleged rape or incest to the county sheriff.

The penalty for a physician found guilty of violating the prohibition is a $10,000 fine, as well as potentially a two-year prison sentence.

Other states that have enacted fetal heartbeat bans in recent years are Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio and Tennessee. Arkansas’ heartbeat law also requires the unborn child to be at least 12 weeks’ gestation, according to the National Right to Life Committee. Alabama has a prohibition on all abortions except in the case of a “serious health risk” to the mother, the National Right to Life Committee reported. Missouri’s abortion ban begins at eight weeks’ gestation.

In recent years, other states have enacted prohibitions on abortions at 15, 18 or 20 weeks’ gestation.

Pro-life legislators have enacted these bans and other protections for unborn children and women considering abortion that they hope will be found acceptable by the U.S. Supreme Court and possibly lead to Roe’s reversal. The confirmation during the Trump administration of three justices considered to be conservative has given pro-life advocates hope the high court is ready to use a state law as the vehicle to overturn Roe.

The justices have been considering since September whether to rule on Mississippi’s 15-week ban on abortions. The case was listed again for the high court’s Friday conference.