Planned Parenthood asks court to reconsider South Carolina's 'heartbeat' abortion ban

FILE PHOTO: A friar holds a crucifix as he prays at Planned Parenthood during a monthly anti-abortion protest, in New York City

By Brendan Pierson

(Reuters) - Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers on Thursday asked South Carolina's top court to reconsider its Wednesday ruling upholding the state's recent ban on abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

In its petition, Planned Parenthood said that the South Carolina Supreme Court had left undecided whether fetal cardiac activity refers to the first regular contractions of heart tissue, which usually occurs around six weeks of pregnancy, or whether it requires the four chambers of the heart to be fully formed - which is usually not until 17 to 20 weeks.

Planned Parenthood urged the court to adopt the latter definition, saying it had been forced to halt all abortions after about six weeks since Wednesday's ruling. The six-week cutoff comes before many women even realize they are pregnant.

The office of South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The state legislature passed the hotly contested bill in May, mostly along party lines, with the notable exception of the state Senate's five women members - three Republicans, a Democrat and an independent - who all opposed it.

The new law came after the state Supreme Court in January struck down a similar abortion law, by a 3-2 vote. Justice Kaye Hearn, who was the court's only female judge and voted against the law, has since retired and was replaced by Justice Garrison Hill.

The U.S. Supreme Court last year overturned its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that had legalized abortion nationwide.

Since then, at least 15 of the 50 states have banned abortion outright while others, including South Carolina, prohibit it after a certain length of pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.

(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York, editing by Deepa Babington)