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South Carolina lawmakers advance near-total abortion ban on the same day state Supreme Court blocks fetal heartbeat law

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Joshua Boucher/The State/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

UPDATE: The state Supreme Court blocked South Carolina’s fetal heartbeat law on Wednesday, according to The Hill, the same day that legislators voted to advance the new near-total abortion ban.

Original story below:

South Carolina lawmakers advanced a bill Wednesday that would criminalize abortion procedures in the state, with an exception for medical emergencies but not for rape or incest.

The state House Judiciary Committee voted 13-7 along party lines to move the South Carolina Human Life Protection Act out of committee, clearing the way for an eventual vote on the House floor, where Republicans hold the majority. All yes votes were from Republicans, and all no votes from Democrats. Three GOP committee members who did not attend the hearing also did not vote.

The bill bans abortions in all cases except certain medical emergencies that threaten the life of the mother. Republican lawmakers argued that the bill was written so that women would not lose access to health care, but would not be able to seek an elective abortions for unwanted children. It also does not criminalize women who have had abortions.

“The No. 1 thing that this bill does is to end the practice of abortion being used as birth control in our state,” state Rep. John McCravy (R) said in remarks at Tuesday's hearing.

“The No. 1 thing the bill does not do is to endanger the healthcare of women in any way,” he added. “In fact, this was the No. 1 misconception we found repeated in the public hearing, that somehow women's healthcare could be endangered by this proposed law. Nothing, and absolutely nothing could be further from the truth.”

McCravy said the bill does not restrict access to contraception, emergency contraception, or IVF. He emphasized that in order to be absolutely transparent, lawmakers included a list of medical conditions the bill does not criminalize, which was compiled in consultation with doctors and health care providers and is not exhaustive. Those conditions include ectopic pregnancies, miscarriages, severe preeclampsia, and more.

"It needs to be noted that some of these conditions do not involve a live, inter in-utero pre-born child, and therefore, really, the resulting procedures are not even considered abortion in this law," McCravy explained.

Current South Carolina law makes abortion illegal after a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy. Abortion rights advocates oppose this restriction, arguing many women do not even know they are pregnant by this time.

Pro-life Republican lawmakers in South Carolina, as in other states, have sought to expand the abortion restrictions after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled states were permitted to regulate abortion in its landmark Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade.

Democrats have opposed the bill, framing it as an attack on women's rights and interference with their health care.

“Our ad hoc committee held a hearing where the only invited expert was a lawyer for National Right to Life. She likened abortion to organized crime and recommended that doctors face racketeering-style prosecution usually reserved for gang members, drug lords and criminal kingpins,” Rep. Spencer Wetmore (D) said in prepared remarks at an earlier subcommittee hearing, according to the State. “Republicans are passing a bill that will ban abortion, throw doctors in jail and kill women.”

During Tuesday's hearing, Rep. Justin Bamberg (D) accused Republicans of legislating conservative Christian beliefs about life beginning at conception and said, "[I]t is improper for religious believes to spill over into the political context."

"This legislation is forcing it on people, it's the very definition of anti-Christian, in my personal opinion, based on my personal Christian beliefs and understanding," he added.

Other Democrats complained that anti-abortion lawmakers claim they value life in the womb, but do little to support government programs that help poor and needy people after they've been born.

Answering these accusations, Rep. Sylleste Davis (R) said the legislature must continue to support mothers and babies in South Carolina after abortion is criminalized.

“I believe that there’s plenty more that we need to do," Davis said. "I believe that we need appropriate some additional funds to crisis pregnancy centers. I think we need to put emphasis and support with the prenatal care and with new mothers, as well. I believe that education is important. I believe that easy access to contraception is important. I believe that we must find a way to streamline adoption.”

McCravy said the state House will vote on the abortion ban in about two weeks. Then it will head to the state Senate, where Republicans also hold a majority, but many lawmakers support adding rape and incest exceptions to the bill.

Editor's note: The headline and opening paragraph have been updated to reflect that the South Carolina Supreme Court temporarily blocked the state's fetal heartbeat law from taking effect shortly after this article was published.

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