Exceptions split Republicans in South Carolina abortion ban

Published: Sep. 8, 2022 at 5:45 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP/WCSC) - A proposed ban on all abortions in South Carolina hung in the balance Thursday as Republicans in the South Carolina Senate couldn’t agree on whether exceptions for rape or incest should be included in the bill.

A final vote was looming in the Senate after two attempts to get the exceptions back in the bill failed Wednesday — one to allow abortions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest up to six weeks after conception and another up to 20 weeks.

Thirteen states have so-called trigger laws designed to outlaw most abortions when the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the constitutional right to end a pregnancy in June. Four Republicans — including the GOP’s three female senators - so far have said they would not vote for a blanket ban.

“I can count,” Republican Sen. Josh Kimbrell, who wrote the six-week proposal, said. “I know this bill will not pass without exceptions.”

Among the 30 Republicans in the 46-member Senate are conservatives who want abortion to be available to young rape victims. And there are Republicans who oppose abortion for any reason.

Democrats are mostly letting them argue among themselves, refusing to help more moderate Republicans and keeping the bill as strict as possible to try to defeat it.

If the legislation is approved and signed into law, South Carolina would join Indiana as states that have passed near-total abortion bans since the monumental Supreme Court ruling.

The debate started Wednesday with the three Republican women in the Senate speaking back-to-back, saying they can’t support the bill unless the rape or incest exceptions are restored.

Sen. Katrina Shealy said the 41 men in the Senate would be better off listening to their wives, daughters, mothers, granddaughters and looking at the faces of the girls in Sunday School classes at their churches.

“You want to believe that God is wanting you to push a bill through with no exceptions that kill mothers and ruins the lives of children — lets mothers bring home babies to bury them — then I think you’re miscommunicating with God. Or maybe you aren’t communicating with Him at all,” Shealy said before senators added a proposal allowing abortions if a fetus cannot survive outside the womb.

Senators who support the ban said the state needs to show it values all life by taking advantage of the opening created by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I never thought I’d live to see Roe v. Wade overturned. We’ve got to rise to that moment,” Kimbrell said.

The same bill without the exceptions appeared to fail in the more conservative state House last week before some Republicans maneuvered through a series of votes to allow abortions for rape or incest victims up to the 12th week of pregnancy.

Senators did agree to change the bill to allow abortions when a doctor determines a fetus has a serious medical problem and will not survive outside the womb, and to allow dependents to get birth control if their parents get insurance through the health plan for state employees.

The bill would ban all abortions in South Carolina except when the mother’s life is at risk. Before they were removed, the bill also included exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest, allowing abortions up to 12 weeks after conception. In those cases, the doctor would have had to tell the patient that the crime and the abortion will be reported, with her name given to the county sheriff within 24 hours of the procedure.

Even if the exceptions for rape or incest are restored, survivors would be forced to unnecessarily relive their trauma, said Taylor Simon, the education and outreach manager for The Hive Community Circle, which works with women and girls in South Carolina who have been affected by sexual assault.

“It’s forcing them to go through invasive processes, such as going through interviews and court cases, all to receive health care after a traumatic experience,” Simon said.

South Carolina currently has a ban on abortions once cardiac activity in a fetus is detectable, which is usually about six weeks. But that law has been suspended as the South Carolina Supreme Court reviews whether it violates the state’s constitutional right to privacy. That leaves South Carolina’s older 20-week abortion ban as the current benchmark.