Committee takes public testimony for first time as SC lawmakers weigh tightening abortion law
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WMBF) - Just a few weeks after the overturn of Roe v. Wade, South Carolina lawmakers are already starting the process to likely tighten up the state’s abortion law even more.
A House ad hoc committee tasked with laying the groundwork for this change met and heard from members of the public for the first time Thursday in Columbia.
Before the meeting began at noon, hundreds of people hoping to testify and more protesting lined up outside the building on State House grounds where it was held, with a heavy law enforcement presence and temporary metal gates surrounding it. Some said they had arrived around 6 a.m.
Many speakers waited hours to share their thoughts with the 12-member panel, which heard several hours of testimony. The committee is made up of eight Republicans and four Democrats, along with eight men and four women.
Rep. John McCravy, a Republican from Greenwood County and the committee’s chair, said while a few speakers with disabilities were given priority to address the committee at the start of the meeting, everyone else would be heard on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The number of anti-abortion speakers heavily outweighed the number of those calling for abortion protections through the first two hours of testimony, and some from the latter group claimed the lineup had been stacked and potentially pre-arranged, with some committee members among the House’s most conservative.
During those first few hours, most speakers called for the legislature to further restrict or completely ban abortions in South Carolina. Many in that group referenced their faiths and said the procedure goes against their Christian beliefs, though others contended religious beliefs do not have a place in state law.
“No more of this cowardly, ‘We need to find some middle ground.’ There’s no middle ground between good and evil. We do not want to regulate abortion; we want to abolish it,” one speaker, a member of Covenant Baptist Church in West Columbia, said.
The House committee is tasked with writing up the details on H.5399, a placeholder bill introduced on the last day of the regular legislative session that would “prohibit abortions in the state of South Carolina.” While that legislation does not include any other specifics yet, it does already have more than 50 Republican sponsors.
Other members of the General Assembly have filed more detailed bills, including one sponsored by Sen. Richard Cash, R – Anderson, based on model legislation proposed by the National Right to Life Committee that would ban all abortions, excluding when the mother’s life is at risk. That bill would also allow doctors who perform abortions to be imprisoned for up to 25 years and criminalize transporting a pregnant minor across state lines for the purpose of getting an abortion, among other prohibitions.
Some testified Thursday that even women who undergo abortions should face criminal charges.
“Friends, this includes mothers who willingly and with malice forethought seek to kill their pre-born babies,” one man said.
The frequency of speakers who supported abortion access and protections increased as time passed during the hours-long meeting.
Many of them argued women in South Carolina should not be forced to carry a baby to term, especially if that pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or puts the mother’s life in jeopardy.
“I find it appalling that you would trust me to volunteer for military service, get deployed, and put my body on the line for this country and for this state, but you would not trust me to make my own healthcare decisions,” Lexington County resident Natasha Durant said.
Some supporters of abortion protections said they found arguments about needing to ban abortions to save unborn children ring hollow in South Carolina.
“In reality, there have been 27 school shootings in the past year, and you’re not willing to implement stricter gun laws,” Rachel Smothers of Lexington County said. “If it’s about the children, why are there 424,000 children in the foster care system?”
The committee has not yet announced if it will take additional public testimony at future meetings.
People can submit written testimony that will be distributed to committee members by emailing it to email@example.com
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