U.S. Appeals Court Sets Date to Hear Fetal Heartbeat Abortion Lawsuit in South Carolina

A federal appeals court has set a date to hear arguments in a lawsuit challenging South Carolina's heartbeat abortion law about a week after the U.S. Supreme Court takes up a similar bill in Mississippi, the Associated Press reported.

Oral arguments for the South Carolina case have been tentatively scheduled for December 6 before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, according to an order from the court posted Friday.

Planned Parenthood is suing South Carolina over its abortion law, which requires doctors to perform ultrasounds to check for a so-called fetal heartbeat, which can be detected typically about six weeks into pregnancy, the AP said. If cardiac activity is detected, doctors are allowed to perform an abortion only if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest, or if it threatens the mother's life.

Republican Governor Henry McMaster signed the measure into law earlier this year.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

South Carolina Abortion Protestors
A federal appellate court is set to debate a lawsuit challenging South Carolina's heartbeat abortion law. Above, Johnny and Kathy Gardner pose for a photograph after protesting against abortion at the South Carolina Capitol on February 23, 2016. Mark Makela/Getty Images

Opponents have argued many women do not know they are pregnant at six weeks. And, they argue, with such an early deadline, the law gives women little time to consider whether to have an abortion.

Medical experts say the cardiac activity is not an actual heartbeat but rather an initial flutter of electric activity within cells in an embryo. They say the heart doesn't begin to form until the fetus is at least nine weeks old, and they decry efforts to promote abortion bans by relying on medical inaccuracies.

A judge has blocked South Carolina's law from going into effect pending the outcome of a challenge to Mississippi's new abortion law, which the U.S. Supreme Court expects to hear December 1.

Mississippi wants the high court to uphold its ban on most abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy, telling the court it should overrule the landmark Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing a woman's right to an abortion and the 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that prevents states from banning abortion before viability.

South Carolina is among a dozen states closely watching newly passed abortion measures through the courts. In Texas, the most restrictive abortion law in the U.S. was reinstated by a federal appeals court Friday after a 48-hour reprieve caused by a suspension ordered by a lower court judge in Austin. The Biden administration, which sued Texas over the law known as Senate Bill 8, has yet to say whether it will take its case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In July, 20 mostly Republican-led states went on record in support of South Carolina's law, arguing in an amicus brief that a federal judge was wrong to pause the entire measure instead of just the provision being challenged. Several months later, 20 Democratic attorneys general voiced their support for the lawsuit challenging South Carolina's law, arguing that the restrictive measure could harm their states by taxing resources if women cross borders to seek care.

South Carolina Abortion Protest
State Representative Justin Bamberg speaks against an abortion bill at a news conference in the Columbia, South Carolina, statehouse on February 17. Jeffrey Collins, File/AP Photo