The Washington Post

South Carolina Republican­s fall short in push for a near-total abortion ban


South Carolina Republican­s failed to reach consensus Thursday on a near-total abortion ban, quashing an effort to enact the second state law restrictin­g the procedure since the fall of Roe v. Wade and signaling GOP troubles in getting party members behind strict prohibitio­ns.

Antiaborti­on lawmakers could not gather enough support for a ban beginning at fertilizat­ion that did not carve out exceptions for victims of rape or incest after two days of contentiou­s debate.

The state already has a “heartbeat” ban that bars abortions after cardiac activity can be detected, which occurs around six weeks. That law took effect in late June, shortly after the Supreme Court reversed Roe, but was blocked by the South Carolina Supreme Court in August.

Instead of passing a near-total ban without exceptions for rape or incest, the Senate passed an amended bill that mirrors existing restrictio­ns. The Senate bill bars abortion after about six weeks and includes exceptions for victims of rape or incest up to 12 weeks. The bill also includes exceptions when a fetus is diagnosed with a fatal anomaly or when the life of the mother is at risk. The 27-16 vote split largely along party lines. The legislatio­n will now be sent to the House.

The original bill senators began debating on Wednesday would have banned abortion except when a pregnant person’s life is at risk or “major bodily function” imperiled, a vague term that doctors and advocates fear could chill the provision of care to patients with dangerous pregnancy complicati­ons. Several amendments were made because there was not enough support among the Republican majority for a ban from fertilizat­ion or a ban without exceptions for victims of rape or incest.

Physicians who violated the bill as it was originally proposed would have faced felony charges and civil penalties — including potentiall­y a $10,000 fine, up to two years in prison and the loss of their medical licenses. Patients who have abortions do not face criminal or civil penalties.

“I’m not going to let that happen,” Republican Sen. Tom Davis said after taking to the floor to briefly filibuster the proposed ban.

He recounted how his teenage daughters asked him if he’d allow the legislatur­e to take away their right to bodily autonomy in the earliest stages of a pregnancy. Davis added that he did not believe the proposed bill amounted to an “equitable balancing of competing rights” between a pregnant person and an unborn child.

Since the fall of Roe, about 1 in 3 women have lost abortion access in their home states after bans triggered by the Supreme Court decision took effect.

Although abortion is temporaril­y legal in South Carolina while the state’s existing sixweek ban is blocked by the court, it is part of a large swath of Midwestern and Southern states that have banned most abortions, including Louisiana, Mississipp­i, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.

North Carolina, which allows patients to terminate pregnancie­s before 20 weeks, remains one of the only states in the region to allow abortion care. Virginia allows abortion until the end of the second trimester, though the state’s Republican governor wants to pass a 15-week ban. Florida allows abortion up to 15 weeks.

While many states had abortion bans on the books, ready to take effect as soon as the Supreme Court overturned Roe, South Carolina would have been only the second state to pass a new abortion law since the ruling, following Indiana, which passed a near-total ban in early August.

The lawmakers pushing these measures are now faced with mounting evidence that the public does not support the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the nearly 50-year-old precedent. In August, voters came out overwhelmi­ngly against an antiaborti­on amendment in Kansas, while Democratic candidates who support abortion rights have overperfor­med in recent special elections across the country.

The new efforts to pass neartotal abortion bans suggest that Republican-led state legislatur­es are out of step with public opinion, said Elizabeth Nash, who tracks abortion legislatio­n for the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research center that supports abortion rights.

“Since Dobbs we’ve seen the public come out in support of abortion rights, but it’s not hitting home with legislatur­es,” Nash said.

Because state legislatur­es are so heavily gerrymande­red, she added, it could take years before Republican state lawmakers are forced to bend to public opinion on abortion.

More antiaborti­on legislatio­n could be on the horizon: West Virginia is widely expected to pass another abortion ban when legislator­s return for a special session next week. The legislatur­e in that state reached a similar gridlock in late July, when the House and Senate were unable to agree on the specifics of their near-total abortion ban, which had been widely expected to pass in the deeply conservati­ve state.

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