COLUMBIA, S.C. — Whether conservative South Carolina changes its abortion laws at all in the wake of this year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision may be decided by divided conservatives Tuesday in the state House.
South Carolina for decades was at the forefront of passing more restrictive abortion laws that challenged Roe v. Wade. before the landmark case was overturned this summer.
But the state that helped lead the nation through requiring ultrasounds, parental consent and 24-hour waiting periods before abortions is at an impasse during a special session. The Senate could only muster enough votes to tweak South Carolina’s current six-week ban — which isn’t even in effect at the moment because of a state Supreme Court challenge.
The state House can accept that version and send it to the governor’s desk, where it will likely be signed into law.
If they reject the Senate’s version that would allow a group of three lawmakers from each chamber to work on a compromise between the Senate bill and the House version, which banned almost all abortions with exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest or that threaten the life of the mother up to 12 weeks after conception.
But Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey isn’t sure there is any room to negotiate.
The Republican said senators showed earlier this month there aren’t enough votes in the 46-member chamber for a ban earlier than six weeks. The Senate’s three women joined two other Republicans against a nearly total abortion ban, leaving the chamber short of votes needed to end a potential filibuster.
The bill before the House keeps the ban on abortion after an ultrasound determines cardiac activity is present in a fetus, which is usually around six weeks. It cuts the time that victims of rape and incest who become pregnant can seek an abortion from 20 weeks to about 12 weeks and requires DNA from the aborted fetus in those situations be collected for police.
For lawmakers and groups that have spent decades trying to end all abortions, it is a frustrating end to what looked so promising after leaders in the Republican-dominated General Assembly quickly called for a special session once the draft opinion leaked that the U.S. Supreme Court was ready to let states to decide the abortion issue themselves.
“I cannot concur with a bill that does nothing. We were not called back to pass a bill we already have — we were called to re-write the laws of our state,” said Rep. John McCravy, the Republican who put together the House’s bill.
McCravy plans to join about a dozen other of the House’s most conservative members who agree the Senate bill is unacceptable to their promise to protect all life. Nearly all the 124-member chamber’s 43 Democrats are against the proposal, too, but for entirely different reasons.
Meanwhile, South Carolina’s Supreme Court has suspended enforcement of the state’s six week ban until it can decide if it violates the state constitution’s guarantee of a right to privacy, leaving the 20-week ban passed in 2016 as the current law.
The debate has Republicans sniping at each other. McCravy called Sen. Tom Davis, who took the lead on a possible filibuster, the “Bully from Beaufort,” saying his vision of South Carolina was “forcing teachers to tell 13 year-old children that they can get free contraception without their parents knowing, and killing at least 2,000 babies a year in the womb.”
Davis has said that greatly and unfairly distorts his positions, and he thinks if Republicans are going to push for restrictions on abortion they should also improve access to birth control, prenatal care and education opportunities for children.
Joining Davis in the Senate were the chamber’s three Republican women. They said a ban on almost all abortions went too far and were especially upset the bill from the House originally had no exceptions for rape or incest.
“Are you pregnant with a dead baby? Too bad. Raped at 11 by your grandfather and got pregnant? That’s just too bad,” Sen. Penry Gustafson said earlier this month.
In response, the South Carolina Freedom Caucus, which includes about a dozen of the House’s most conservative members, released a letter last week from its two female members saying that they “mean it when we say we are pro-life.”
The letter said so few abortions happen after rape and incest that they didn’t matter.
“Permitting the murder of a living being based on situations that virtually never occur is unacceptable to us,” said the letter by Reps. Ashley Trantham and Melissa Oremus which promised all 13 members of the group would vote against the bill.
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