A law restricting abortions in South Carolina after six weeks of pregnancy can take effect immediately in the state, a federal court ruled Monday. The US District Court in South Carolina has lifted its grip on enforcement of a state law passed last year that bars most abortions if an ultrasound detects a so-called fatal heartbeat, usually around six weeks after the start of a pregnancy.

The decision was part of a wave of legal actions across the United States after Friday U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade. The federal court ruling authorizes the implementation of the Fatal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act, which requires doctors to use an ultrasound to try to detect a so-called fatal heartbeat if they think a pregnant woman is pregnant for at least eight weeks. In this case, an abortion can only be performed if the woman’s life is in danger or if the pregnancy results from rape or incest.

However, medical experts say cardiac activity is not an actual heartbeat but rather an initial flutter of electrical activity within the cells of an embryo. They say the heart doesn’t begin to form until the fetus is at least nine weeks old. Nonetheless, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster signed the law into law in 2021. Opponents sued hours later, blocking it from taking effect, but dropped the suit after Roe v. Wade. The new law replaces the one that allowed abortions up to the 20th week of pregnancy.

“Our state is now fulfilling a government’s most sacred and fundamental duty, to protect life,” state Attorney General Alan Wilson said in a statement.

Planned Parenthood said it would continue to perform abortions at its South Carolina clinics within the parameters of the new law. Republican legislative leaders have raised the possibility of calling a special session to further toughen the abortion law. But it was unclear if they had the votes for a full ban like the one McMaster is backing. Also on Monday, the Democratic candidate for governor of South Carolina said he would oppose a blanket ban on abortion if elected.

“If a bill fell on my desk to ban all abortions without exception, I would veto it pretty quickly,” Joe Cunningham said at his first press conference since winning the nomination earlier in the year. month.

Cunningham’s veto threat carries weight with Republicans, given that they don’t have enough votes in the State House or Senate to easily override a veto. And a handful of Republican lawmakers have been hesitant to support banning abortion, especially without exceptions for rape or incest.

McMaster supports a total ban on abortion, but whether he supports exceptions is not so clear. The governor told reporters in May, just after a draft version of the Supreme Court ruling leaked, that he supported “no exceptions.” But he also said he would work with lawmakers without committing to any version of a ban, whether it charges doctors who perform illegal abortions with murder or allows victims of rape and incest to end to a pregnancy.

“The more we can protect life in South Carolina, the better,” McMaster said last month. McMaster is up for re-election and will face Cunningham in November.

Cunningham also asked the South Carolina General Assembly not to call a special session, saying voters will let their representatives know exactly how they feel about the court’s decision in the November election.

“Instead of calling a special session to suspend the gas tax or give our teachers a raise or ensure the protection of women, they want to call a special session to finally put the nail in the coffin of women’s reproductive rights” , Cunningham said.