Ban on abortions in SC, with limited exceptions, awaits Senate debate after passing House

Published: Aug. 31, 2022 at 6:47 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 31, 2022 at 9:23 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - A near-ban on abortion in South Carolina is now closer to becoming law.

The state’s Republican-dominated House of Representatives gave the bill a third reading in a 67-35 vote to pass it Wednesday and send it to the Senate, where it now awaits debate.

While debate in the House on the legislation was expected to take multiple days, it wrapped up Tuesday night after beginning earlier that afternoon, as members quickly worked through about two dozen amendments, most of which were voted down.

In the biggest change to come out of the debate, an exception was added to allow abortions for rape and incest victims, but only before 12 weeks of pregnancy, and those crimes would be required to be reported to law enforcement within 24 hours of the abortion.

That nearly tripped up the bill Tuesday, as Republicans could not come to an agreement on if they would vote to allow these exceptions or not.

But as members prepared to vote on whether to give the bill as a whole, without those exceptions, a second reading or kill it, Republican leadership made the unusual move of requesting a recess right before a final vote.

The caucus regrouped for nearly two hours before eventually approving the exceptions for some sexual assault victims, but even that required legislative maneuvering, as an exception-free version of the bill failed to pass initially.

“That was the consensus amongst the caucus members that we have to pass something, we can’t let this get by us. If I told you it was pleasant in there, I’d be lying to you,” House Majority Leader David Hiott, R – Pickens, said of the House Republican Caucus meeting during the recess.

Around 20 of the chamber’s most conservative Republicans had refused earlier in the week to commit to supporting a bill that included those exceptions, and they had voted against their inclusion earlier in Tuesday’s debate.

However, most of the group ultimately voted for the final bill, which added them in, as their exclusion threatened to jeopardize the entire legislation.

“This bill and this body makes a strong statement that South Carolina stands for life,” Rep. John McCravy, R – Greenwood, said.

While Republicans celebrated the bill’s passage Wednesday, Democrats lamented more lives will be worse off if the legislation becomes permanent law.

“Women who are forced to have children, who are already living in poverty, what we’re doing, quite frankly, is creating or continuing the cycle of poverty,” Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D – Orangeburg, said.

The bill also allows abortions to save the mother’s life and health, listing ectopic pregnancies, severe preeclampsia, and miscarriages among the situations in which abortions would be permitted.

Abortion providers could face up to two years in prison and a fine for performing the procedure, but South Carolinians who receive abortions would not be criminalized. Supporters say they also do not seek to prohibit contraceptives or in vitro fertilization.

House members added another amendment Tuesday, proposed by Republican Micah Caskey of Lexington County, that could force biological fathers to cover child support payments and half of the mother’s pregnancy expenses, beginning at the date of conception. In cases involving rape or incest, the father could also be on the hook for the full cost of the mother’s mental health counseling necessitated by the assault.

Democrats proposed just two amendments — one to protect access to abortion, contraceptives, sexual education, and other matters, and the other to leave the issue up to voters in a ballot referendum — but both those pushes failed.

“The limited exceptions for rape and incest which were added to the bill still do not offer protection that women so desperately need,” Rep. Beth Bernstein, D – Richland, said.

Most Democrats also voted Tuesday against adding the exceptions for rape and incest to the bill, saying it was not their responsibility to make better what they still view as bad legislation.

“Exceptions are not the answer,” Rep. Krystle Matthews, D – Berkeley, said. “That is giving in. That is telling people that that is the best that we can do, and the best that we can do is keeping our laws off of women’s bodies.”

The South Carolina Senate, which is also led by a Republican majority, is scheduled to begin its debate on the bill next week.

Republican Gov. Henry McMaster has repeatedly voiced his support for tighter abortion restrictions, and in a statement, his spokesman said McMaster believes the House-approved bill “is a good starting point for the Senate to begin its deliberations.”