HomeBreaking NewsSouth Carolina Senate Passes 6-Week Abortion Ban

South Carolina Senate Passes 6-Week Abortion Ban

The South Carolina Senate approved a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy on Tuesday after a filibuster led by five senators, including three Republicans, failed to block it. The bill will dramatically reduce abortion access in a state that has become an unexpected destination for women seeking the procedure as nearly every other southern state has moved toward bans.

The legislation now heads to Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican who has said he will sign it. Abortion rights advocates said they would challenge the ban in court, where they would test a state Supreme Court ruling in January that struck down an earlier six-week ban and found abortion rights in the state Constitution.

The legislation had exposed divisions among Republicans over how far to go to restrict abortion, a fight that has played out in other legislatures in the year since the US Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, returning abortion regulation to the states.

At least 25 states have moved to restrict abortion since the Roe capsize last June. Fourteen of those states now ban most abortions. South Carolina is about to join Georgia in banning the procedure after six weeks.

The women who filibustered, calling themselves the “Sister Senators”, argued that the South Carolina bill posed so many obstacles that almost no one could get an abortion in the state. Because pregnancy is considered to begin on the first day of a woman’s last menstrual period, six weeks is about two weeks after she missed a period, before many women know they are pregnant.

The bill requires any woman seeking an abortion to first have two in-person medical visits and two ultrasounds. Sen. Katrina Shealy, one of the Republican women who opposed the six-week ban, said Tuesday: “We are not God. We need to let people make decisions for themselves.”

Although the bill provides exceptions for victims of rape and incest, and in cases of fatal fetal anomalies or when the woman’s life and health are at risk, those exceptions are only available up to 12 weeks into the pregnancy.

The governor had called a rare special session of the legislature to try to pass a ban, seeking to resolve a standoff between the House and Senate.

While both chambers are controlled by Republicans, the House is more conservative and has pushed three times for the Senate to pass a bill that would ban almost all abortions beginning at conception. Three times, women in the Senate and three male Republican colleagues achieved filibustering. Instead, Republican women advocated for a 12-week ban or posing the question to voters on a ballot measure.

His Republican colleagues in the Senate rejected that 12-week proposal, and Sen. Richard Cash said it would lead to “abortion on demand” in South Carolina.

Two of the Republican women agreed, as a compromise, to a six-week ban with exceptions for medical emergencies, fatal fetal diagnoses, and cases of rape and incest. The Senate passed that bill, but because the House added amendments, it had to vote again.

The women had warned their House colleagues not to make changes to the bill: “Don’t move a single semicolon,” said Republican Sen. Sandy Senn. Instead, the House added amendments that the women said would effectively ban all abortions.

The amendments included requirements for doctor visits and ultrasound scans, and removed a provision that would have allowed minors up to 12 weeks to obtain an abortion or request a waiver from a judge if they could not obtain parental consent. Opponents of the bill pointed out that the state’s three abortion clinics currently had a two- to three-week wait for an appointment, and that adding requirements for more visits would mean no one could get a legal abortion.

The House version also added statements of fact that the State Supreme Court had criticized when it struck down the previous six-week ban. One says that heart activity, which can be noticed at around six weeks, is a “key indicator” that a fetus will result in a live birth. Another says that the state has a “compelling interest from the beginning of a woman’s pregnancy to protect the health of the woman and the life of the fetus.”

The lawmakers who intervened argued that this could be seen as a declaration that a fetus is a person, opening the door to a ban on conception. The bill also requires parents to pay child support upon conception.

It also allows the state board of medical examiners to revoke the medical license of any doctor who violates the law and allows anyone to file a complaint. Parents of a minor can file a civil lawsuit against a doctor who performed an abortion.

The Republican leadership in the legislature was eager to pass a ban that could challenge the state Supreme Court decision starting in January. The judge who wrote that decision was the only woman on the court, and she made extensive reference to the expansion of women’s rights since Roe was decided in 1973.

But she withdrew soon after and was succeeded by a man, making South Carolina the only state with an all-male high court.

Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, an anti-abortion group, hailed the bill’s passage and thanked South Carolina Republicans for their “persistence.”

“This measure will save thousands of people each year who will enrich the lives of others and the state of South Carolina,” said Caitlin Connors, the group’s southern regional director.

Republicans, including the women who tried to obstruct the bill, were concerned about the rising number of abortions in the state since other southern states enacted bans. According to state health officials, about half of all abortions in recent months have been performed on residents of other states.

In the days leading up to the debate, Shane Massey, Senate Majority Leader, declared that South Carolina had become “the abortion capital of the Southeast.”

“The pro-life members of the Senate believe this is unacceptable,” he said.

Before the final vote Tuesday night, female Republican senators and their Democratic colleagues fiercely condemned the six-week ban.

“When you wake up, when your sisters wake up, when your daughters wake up and you want to know who took your rights away, it was the Republicans,” said Brad Hutto, the Senate minority leader.

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