SC House committee sets first meeting to consider toughening abortion laws
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - A committee of state lawmakers will hold its first meeting next week as it begins work that could further limit abortion in the Palmetto State.
The House of Representatives ad hoc committee will study and receive public testimony on the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. That ruling, nicknamed Dobbs, overturned the nearly 50-year-old Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion across the country.
The committee will hold its first meeting July 7 at noon in room 110 of the Blatt Building on State House grounds.
“In light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision, South Carolina must reexamine our legislation on this crucial issue,” Speaker of the House Murrell Smith, R - Sumter, said in a statement. “I formed this Committee to enable the House to act swiftly and thank each of the members who will serve. I look forward to the considerable testimony the Committee will take and I anticipate the Committee’s ultimate recommendation for legislative action.”
The 12-member committee is made up of eight Republicans — Rep. John McCravy of Greenwood, House Majority Leader David Hiott of Pickens, Rep. Micah Caskey of Lexington, Rep. Heather Crawford of Horry, Rep. Jeff Johnson of Horry, Rep. Josiah Magnuson of Spartanburg, Rep. Travis Moore of Spartanburg, and Rep. Melissa Oremus of Aiken — and four Democrats — Rep. Chandra Dillard of Greenville, Rep. Jackie “Coach” Hayes of Dillon, Rep. Rosalyn Henderson-Myers of Spartanburg, and Rep. David Weeks of Sumter.
Seven of those members are also part of the State House’s conservative Family Caucus, which backs anti-abortion legislation, calling itself “unashamedly pro-life.”
McCravy is chairing the panel, which Smith tasked with writing up the details on H.5399, a placeholder bill introduced in the House on the last day of the regular legislative session that would “prohibit abortions in the state of South Carolina,” but does not yet include any other specifics.
“I am honored to lead this Committee as we act swiftly and justly to determine how to best protect life in South Carolina,” McCravy said in a statement. “I thank Speaker Smith for his leadership in forming this Committee in a timely manner and look forward to working with my colleagues to produce a recommendation in the same way.”
While the South Carolina General Assembly ended its 2022 regular legislative session in May, it passed a resolution before adjourning that outlines the reasons for which lawmakers could return to Columbia. Among them, members could be called back to the State House to respond to the Dobbs ruling.
The resolution allows the legislature to reconvene as early as this Friday, but lawmakers in both chambers have said they expect that would happen in late summer or fall.
On Monday, the Democrat hoping to unseat Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, former Lowcountry Congressman Joe Cunningham, called for the General Assembly to hold off on considering any changes to South Carolina’s abortion law until after the November general election.
McCravy and leaders in the state Senate have said South Carolinians will have the opportunity to weigh in through public hearings and testimony, but Cunningham said they should be able to make their voices heard through the ballot box.
On Tuesday, speaking with reporters for the first time since the Supreme Court overturned Roe last Friday, McMaster said there is no reason to wait.
“Now is a good time,” he said. “We have children being aborted in our state as well as the rest of the country. We have the information. It’s time to get on with the discussion and make whatever other decisions are necessary.”
As a result of the Dobbs ruling, a federal judge lifted the injunction that had blocked South Carolina’s “fetal heartbeat law” from being enforced since shortly after McMaster signed it last year. As of Monday afternoon, the law is now in effect and enforceable in South Carolina.
It bans most abortion after around six weeks, a time opponents argue is before many women know they are pregnant, allowing for exceptions in cases of rape and incest through 20 weeks, along with life and health of the mother and fetal anomalies.
Violations by an abortion provider are felonies, punishable by up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The governor has said he supports an abortion ban without exceptions, which Cunningham labeled Monday as “the most extreme position” in the country on abortion.
“It would be one of the most dangerous and draconian forms of government overreach in our history,” Cunningham said, adding he supports the legislature codifying Roe into state law.
McMaster was asked Tuesday about Cunningham’s characterization that the governor does not support exceptions in situations in which the mother’s life is at risk.
“I say I don’t want to have any abortions,” McMaster told reporters. “I think that we want to get away from that. If no one is seeking abortions, then we won’t need exceptions. But the exceptions have been recognized, various exceptions have been recognized. I think we need to be very careful, and we need to realize that we must stop abortions in the country. So we’ll see what the legislature does, but I think we have to have a very firm line on it in South Carolina.”
Also on Tuesday, Sen. Richard Cash, R – Anderson, introduced a bill titled the “Equal Protection at Conception - No Exceptions - Act,” which features language similar to abortion bills introduced in other states.
It would ban almost all abortions in South Carolina, with no exceptions for victims of rape or incest, though exceptions would be allowed if the life of the mother was in jeopardy.
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