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Unconstitutional 20-Week Abortion Ban Primed to Pass in South Carolina

Teddy Wilson

The state senate passed the bill Tuesday in a 36-9 vote, as eight Democrats joined the Republican majority.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) said that she would likely sign an unconstitutional ban on abortion care at 20 or more weeks of pregnancy. The bill’s path to the governor’s desk, however, has become uncertain

H 3114, sponsored by Rep. Wendy Nanney (R-Greenville), would ban abortions at 20 weeks or more post-fertilization unless, in the physician’s judgment, abortion care is necessary to avert the pregnant person’s death or avoid the risk of physical impairment of a major bodily function, other than a psychological condition. The measure’s limited definition of “fetal anomaly” means it would be illegal to abort many fetuses with severe disabilities. Senate Democrats have previously blocked the legislation.

Physicians who violate the anti-choice measure could face up to a $10,000 fine and three years in prison.

“I can’t imagine any scenario in which I wouldn’t sign it,” Haley told the Associated Press.

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South Carolina’s Republican lawmakers have pushed for similar legislation before, but Democrats have managed to block their efforts. Republicans were able to pass the bill this year after an epic legislative journey, as lawmakers added and removed amendments and debated the language of the unconstitutional abortion ban.

At issue has been what exceptions would be included in the bill. The current bill allows exceptions if the pregnant person’s life is in jeopardy or a doctor determines the fetus can’t survive outside the womb. There is no exception for rape or incest.

House members amended the measure to include such exceptions after the bill was first introduced in January 2015. The state senate amended the bill and stripped out the exceptions after state Sen. Lee Bright (R-Spartanburg) filibustered the bill, charging there should be no exceptions included in the bill. 

The state senate passed the bill last week in a 36-9 vote, as eight Democrats joined the Republican majority in voting for the version of the bill negotiated by a conference committee of three house members and three state senators.

A two-thirds majority of state senators present is needed to approve the conference committee bill. However, a two-thirds majority of all representatives, regardless of whether or not they are present, is needed for approval in the house.

Two votes have failed to gain the 83 votes needed for approval. The house failed to pass the bill on March 9 by one vote, and again failed to pass the bill on March 10, falling three votes shy.

State Sen. Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) told the State that lawmakers have no business dictating to pregnant people what they should do about their health care. “I have faith in the women of South Carolina that they know best what to do when the time comes to make a decision about their bodies,” Hutto said.

Laws to ban abortion at or after 20 weeks of pregnancy with varying exceptions have been enacted in 16 states, and the courts have blocked those laws in three states: Arizona, Georgia, and Idaho.

The so-called Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, based on copycat legislation authored by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), justifies the ban on the theory that a fetus can experience pain at 20 weeks of pregnancy. The claim that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks has been discredited by medical professionals.

Hospitals are the only facilities in which pregnant people seeking to terminate a pregnancy at 20 weeks or later could obtain abortion care. South Carolina’s three abortion clinics do not provide the procedure past 18 weeks.

Lawmakers must approve the conference committee compromise bill by the time the legislative session ends in June.

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