‘Heartbeat law’ ruling breathes life into pro-life movement

5 mins read
heartbeat law ruling
Edith Smith holds a sign while praying with a finger rosary during a Life Chain event in front of Immaculate Conception Church in Goose Creek, S.C., Oct. 7, 2018. The South Carolina Supreme Court's Aug. 23, 2023, decision to uphold the state's six week abortion ban has invigorated the pro-life movement in the Palmetto State. (OSV News photo/CNS file, Deirdre C. Mays, Catholic Miscellany)

(OSV News) — When the South Carolina Supreme Court upheld life-affirming legislation Aug. 23 with a 4-1 decision declaring as constitutional the Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act, it breathed new life into the pro-life movement in the Palmetto State.

Commonly referred to as a “heartbeat law,” the legislation was signed by Gov. Henry McMaster in May, and challenged by state abortion providers Planned Parenthood and Greenville Women’s Clinic and two doctors. But with the court’s ruling, the lives of the unborn are now protected at six weeks’ gestation with some exceptions for rape, incest, fetal anomalies and in cases where the life of the mother is at risk.

Proponents of the heartbeat law believe it has the potential to save thousands of unborn lives each year. In 2022, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control reported that nearly half of the 7,276 abortions performed in the state — 3,530 or 48.5% — were after six-weeks gestation.

According to data gathered by the Charlotte Lozier Institute, abortions in South Carolina have risen every year since 2018, when the state had 4,646 abortions. The 2022 abortion numbers represent the highest number of abortions reported since 2007.

Catholics help moms in South Carolina

Reinvigorated by the heartbeat law’s victory, the Diocese of Charleston and state pro-life advocates are even more determined to accompany pregnant women, especially those facing unplanned or crisis pregnancies, by putting faith into action with a multipronged approach of advocacy and outreach.

“The sound of the heartbeat is a sound of hope, new life. With the Heartbeat Law, we will have more opportunities to help sustain the heartbeat of a vulnerable population, the unborn child and his or her mother, with loving support from the Catholic Church,” Kathy Schmugge, diocesan director of family life, told OSV News.

“No woman in South Carolina needs to have an elective abortion,” said Holly Gatlin, executive director of South Carolina Citizens for Life, the state’s oldest and largest pro-life organization. A veteran of the pro-life movement, Gatlin is a parishioner of Our Lady of the Hills Church in Columbia who, in addition to her advocacy work at the state level, prays the rosary in front of Planned Parenthood.

“We have 35 pregnancy care centers, many Catholic parishes who offer the Walking With Moms In Need ministry, and other churches around the state with generous programs to help pregnant women,” Gatlin explained.

Parish level support for mothers

Currently more than seven parishes in each of the deaneries in the Diocese of Charleston offer Walking With Moms in Need, an initiative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops launched in March 2020. In cooperation with the diocese and its Office of Family Life, these parishes offer support to pregnant and parenting women in multiple ways, depending on the resources of the parish and the needs of the women in their community.

“At my parish, we’re finding a need for single parenting moms to have some support,” said Maureen Weigold, who coordinates the Respect Life ministry at Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Chapin. Her parish plans to hold a prayer brunch for single mothers Sept. 9.

In addition to serving with Walking With Moms in Need, Weigold, who is also the Respect Life coordinator for the Columbia deanery, and her husband, Deacon Greg Weigold, regularly pray in front of Planned Parenthood in Columbia and are currently praying a 54-Day novena for the conversion of the abortion facility’s employees. They lead a local 40 Days For Life Prayer Vigil in October.

Weigold said that on the first day the heartbeat law went into effect, sidewalk advocates in front of Planned Parenthood told her they saw a 78% decrease in the number of cars coming to the facility. They reported only 13 clients arrived; six women left before procuring an abortion and another woman opted to board an Ultrasound RV and after seeing the ultrasound image decided to keep her unborn child.

“Now more than ever I will be working to get people out (to pray), because every single human life is precious. I’d like to think that this October 40 Days For Life will be the end to abortion in Columbia,” Weigold told OSV News.

Diocese of Charleston committed to help mothers

“The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston is committed to continuing to help mothers and their children,” said Michael Acquilano, chief operating officer of the Diocese of Charleston, and director of the South Carolina Catholic Conference, its public policy advocacy center.

In 2021, the diocese opened St. Clare’s Home in Greenville, which provides a safe home for pregnant women in crisis pregnancy situations who are experiencing homelessness. The home can accommodate up to eight women and their young children, under age 5. They may stay at the home for one year, free of charge. Women are offered parenting and life skills classes, and opportunities to further their education during their stay at St. Clare’s Home.

“The home provides a safe place for mothers to live before and after they give birth. Funding for the home comes from the diocese’s budget, the state and generous donors. We will continue to fund and raise money to ensure St. Clare’s Home serves those in need,” Acquilano said.

He noted that the diocese is so committed to assisting women and children that it is exploring the possibility of constructing additional St. Clare’s homes in other parts of the state.

“We’re thrilled that in the last two years, we’ve been able to house 26 moms and had 13 babies born in the house,” said Valerie Baronkin, executive director of St. Clare’s Home. “At St. Clare’s Outreach Center, we’ve also helped 250 moms in the past two years with much-needed support. It’s amazing how many women are in really poor circumstances now with the high cost of living, fathers not helping take care of their children and the poor economy.”

Christy Brown, culture of life coordinator in the Diocese of Charleston’s Office of Family Life, reiterated the level of support the Catholic faithful have given — and will continue to give — to women.

“We have had baby showers and collected thousands of dollars’ worth of baby items that were given to local pregnancy centers, St. Clare’s Home, and individual moms that came to us for help,” she said. “We have also helped moms find housing, food and other resources to help them take care of their babies.”

The Office of Family Life also offers Sidewalk Advocates for Life training, so members of the faith community can pray and witness to life out in front of an abortion facility. Staff of the Office of Family Life are currently taking the Be Not Afraid ministry’s Parent Care Coordinator training.

Advocacy for couples

“It has been shown that when couples are accompanied through a poor prenatal diagnosis, they are more likely to go to term than abort,” Schmugge said. “We have worked with Be Not Afraid for over 10 years and are taking this new training to expand our services to couples who have received difficult prenatal diagnosis.”

Going forward, advocacy at the local and state level continues to be a priority for the diocese and other groups who have been on the forefront of the battle for the right to life.

South Carolina Citizens For Life plans to be at the forefront, helping to promote legislation to protect vulnerable populations in the years to come.

“The heartbeat law is going to save a lot of lives, but our ultimate goal is to have a human protection act to protect our brothers and sisters from conception to birth to natural death,” Gatling said.

SueAnn Howell

SueAnn Howell writes for OSV News from North Carolina.