COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) – South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster (R) signed the Fetal Heartbeat and Protections from Abortion Act, S.474, into law on Thursday morning while surrounded by members of the General Assembly.

After calling lawmakers back into special session, House lawmakers passed the controversial legislation on May 17 after days of debate. It was later sent to the state Senate, where it also passed.

According to Gov. McMaster’s office, the bill prohibits abortion in South Carolina after a fetal heartbeat has been detected, effectively banning most abortions in the state after about six weeks. There are limited exceptions in cases of medical emergencies, fatal fetal anomalies, and in cases of rape or incest.

Gov. McMaster said the act is effective immediately.

“With my signature, the Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act is now law and will begin saving the lives of unborn children immediately,” said Gov. McMaster. “This is a great day for life in South Carolina, but the fight is not over. We stand ready to defend this legislation against any challenges and are confident we will succeed. The right to life must be preserved, and we will do everything we can to protect it.”

South Carolina had recently proven to be a key destination for people seeking abortions, amid access in many Southern states being severely restricted. Provisional state Health Department data showed larger numbers of out-of-state patients after the state’s highest court overturned previous restrictions and left abortion legal through 22 weeks.

The new law signed by South Carolina governor’s will change that status, according to Caitlin Myers, an economics professor at Middlebury College. Myers, who studies the effects of reproductive policies, said limited evidence suggests about half of the people who want abortions won’t be able to make the six-week threshold.

“It’s likely to end up sending a lot of desperate people seeking abortions even farther distances and result in even greater congestion at the facilities that are left to receive them,” Myers said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.