Bill to ban almost all abortions in SC advances to House floor for debate

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Published: Aug. 16, 2022 at 7:07 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Legislation that would outlaw abortion in South Carolina except under extremely limited circumstances will soon face its first major fight at the State House.

The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday advanced the restrictive bill to the House of Representatives floor for debate, which is scheduled to begin in two weeks.

The legislation Judiciary members approved is unchanged from the recommendations a House panel made last month, after hearing several hours of public testimony.

In it, abortion would be allowed in South Carolina only to save the life and health of the mother in situations like ectopic pregnancies, severe pre-eclampsia, and miscarriages.

However, the bill does not permit the procedure in cases of rape, incest, or fetal anomalies.

“The woman should get all the assistance and care we can offer, and second, the perpetrator should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Rep. John McCravy, R – Greenwood and the chair of the panel that made the legislation’s recommendations, said during Tuesday’s meeting. “As much of a tragedy as this is, we must consider the life of the innocent, pre-born child as precious as the life of any child.”

Members of both parties are just about certain to propose amendments during floor debate to add these exceptions to the legislation.

“Before you can voluntarily get married, you have to be of a certain age, and there was legislation and efforts made to raise that age. You’ve got to be above 18 to do this, you’ve got to be above 21 to drink,” Rep. Justin Bamberg, D – Bamberg, said. “But at 10 years old, the state can make you have a baby.”

Under the bill, abortion providers could face up to two years in prison and a fine, but South Carolinians who get abortions would not be criminalized.

This would not prevent traveling to another state to get an abortion, and lawmakers in support say they don’t seek to prohibit contraceptives or in vitro fertilization.

“It bans the practice of abortion as birth control. It protects and preserves all legitimate women’s healthcare,” McCravy said of the bill.

While few Republicans on the GOP-majority House Judiciary Committee spoke during Tuesday’s nearly two-hour meeting, Democrats railed against the bill, and tensions escalated near the end.

One member, Bamberg, packed his bag, rose, and left the room as the meeting was still in progress after Judiciary Chair Chris Murphy, R - Dorchester, cut his second round of remarks short while Bamberg was still speaking. He later returned to cast a vote against advancing the legislation.

Most Democrats asked why Republicans were in a rush to further restrict South Carolina’s abortion law when the state’s six-week ban on the procedure went into effect less than two months ago, shortly after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. They said the General Assembly should wait to see what effect the current law has on the state before further restricting it.

Some Democrats spoke about the burden they believe a near-ban on abortion will place on the state’s healthcare providers, especially in rural areas, where OB-GYNs are already rare.

“Who will deliver all these babies that you all are forcing women to have?” Rep. Pat Henegan, D – Marlboro, asked.

Others bemoaned the time spent debating abortion, an issue that comes up with regularity at the State House, while they said other issues that hurt South Carolinians remain inadequately addressed.

“There’s so much legislation we could do to address the sick, the poor, the orphans, the incarcerated. These are all groups that are mentioned in the Bible. But they certainly, as far as this legislature is concerned, take a backseat to the fetus,” Rep. Seth Rose, D – Richland, said.

Committee members voted along party lines, 13-7, to advance the unamended bill to the House floor, where amendments will certainly be proposed in what is expected to be a heated and extended debate beginning Aug. 30.

Five members did not vote, including a few Republicans who were present in the meeting.

“Out of respect for the process, I’m not voting today. But I want it to be clear that myself and many others are not in a position to vote for this bill without significant changes to the bill,” Rep. Neal Collins, R – Pickens, said.

The Senate, meanwhile, is just getting this process started and will hear public testimony on abortion for the first time since Roe’s overturn on Wednesday, during a Senate Medical Affairs Committee meeting. That meeting will start at 9 a.m. in Room 105 of the Gressette Building on the State House grounds in Columbia and will also be livestreamed.

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