Near-ban on abortion fails in SC Senate, but restrictions added to six-week ban

Published: Sep. 8, 2022 at 9:04 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 9, 2022 at 4:10 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Less than three months after the US Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade opened the door for states to settle the issue of abortion for themselves, a Republican-led push to nearly ban the procedure in South Carolina is over for now.

However, the state Senate passed a bill in a special session Thursday that adjusts and adds more restrictions to South Carolina’s current six-week ban on abortion. The bill’s approval came in a 27-16 vote, with almost all Republicans voting for it and two Republicans joining all but one Democrat in voting against it.

The Senate legislation is a significant change to the near-ban legislation the House of Representatives approved last week, so House members will next consider whether to accept those changes and send the bill to the governor or to further amend the bill.

The state’s current law, the “Fetal Heartbeat Law,” prohibits most abortions after fetal cardiac activity is detected, which is typically around six weeks. However, its enforcement has been temporarily blocked by the South Carolina Supreme Court, so at this point, abortions are legal in the state before 20 weeks of pregnancy.

In an attempt to curb legal challenges, the bill passed in the Senate on Thursday changes language in the current law that the Supreme Court referenced in its ruling to issue a temporary injunction on the “Fetal Heartbeat Law” last month.

While the current law bans most abortions after around six weeks, it allows them for longer periods of time under limited circumstances: when the mother’s life or health are at risk, when the mother is a victim of rape or incest, or in cases of fatal fetal anomalies, when a doctor determines the fetus would not be able to survive outside the womb.

The Senate-approved bill drops the period of time when the exception for rape and incest is allowed from 20 weeks to through the first trimester, around 13 weeks.

The current law requires allegations of rape and incest be reported to law enforcement when abortions are performed under those circumstances within 24 hours of the procedure. The Senate bill adds a new requirement that a DNA sample of the aborted fetus be taken by a physician and sent to law enforcement to be preserved as evidence within 90 days of the abortion.

In cases involving fatal fetal anomalies, it increases the number of doctors who have to sign off on the abortion, confirming the fetus could not survive outside the womb, from one to two.

The Senate legislation also codifies a prohibition on state dollars being sent to Planned Parenthood and being used to pay for abortions, excluding pregnancies resulting from sexual assault. Those prohibitions are typically added as a temporary law in the state budget annually.

Senators began their debate — which lasted for nearly 20 hours over the course of two days — with legislation before them that would ban almost all abortions, allowing them only when the mother’s life or health were in jeopardy.

However, Republicans in the chamber’s majority were divided over those who supported a bill with exceptions for sexual assault survivors and those who wanted an exception-free bill. Multiple amendments to add these exceptions to the bill were proposed and subsequently failed.

Republican leaders said it became clear there was not enough support in the Senate to overcome filibuster challenges to a near-ban, even with exceptions, as Democrats and four Republicans, including all three of the chamber’s Republican women, opposed the passage of such a restrictive bill.

At that point, Republicans switched strategy to adjusting the six-week ban, gaining the support of two of the Republicans who had previously opposed the legislation.

In a statement following Senate passage of the bill, a spokesman for Gov. Henry McMaster said, “The Senate’s bill – just like the House bill – strikes an appropriate balance. It is the governor’s hope that the House and Senate will soon come to an agreement and send a bill to his desk for signature.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.