A pro-life bill to ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected is advancing through the South Carolina Legislature, on its way to a vote on the floor of the state Senate.
The state Senate Medical Affairs Committee voted 9-8 on Wednesday in favor of advancing the bill, which would make abortions in South Carolina illegal after an unborn baby's heartbeat can be detected, generally at some time between six to eight weeks of a woman's pregnancy. The bill provides just one exception for when a doctor determines that a woman's life is in danger if an abortion is not performed.
Political observers in the state expect the bill to pass after Republicans expanded their legislative majorities in both state houses in the November election.
The Post and Courier reported that two Republicans, state Sens. Tom Davis and Sandy Senn, voted with Democrats against the bill in committee. Davis had proposed an amendment adding exceptions for rape and incest, but the committee voted the amendment down by a 7-4 vote, with Democrats abstaining because they believe the bill is unconstitutional in the first place.
"Since there's no way to cure the defects, I will not try and put lipstick on a pig in an effort to help [Republicans] sanitize a fatally flawed bill," state Sen. Marlon Kimpson (D) said.
State Sen. Richard Cash (R), one of the bill's most ardent defenders, argued that "innocent human life" should not be punished for the actions of a rapist.
"This is not in any way to minimize the violence, the trauma, the very difficult situation that the woman has been put in by the rapist," Cash said. "There are no easy answers in a situation like this."
In previous years, state Senate Democrats have successfully blocked pro-life legislation from advancing in South Carolina. But this year, after Democrats lost three seats to conservative Republican challengers who support the bill, the minority may be unable to stop the bill from passing.
"It's possible amendments are proposed," Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto (D) said Tuesday, referring to poison pill amendments that could erode Republican support for the bill. "Our position is, this bill is unconstitutional and it's a waste of time."
South Carolina pro-life groups recognize that if the bill becomes law it will likely be challenged in court. But they welcome that challenge, looking to the U.S. Supreme Court and the three justices appointed by former President Donald Trump to possibly take the case and re-examine the precedent of Roe v. Wade.
In a letter to the Medical Affairs Committee supporting the heartbeat bill's passage, South Carolina Citizens for Life encouraged lawmakers to support the bill "as a challenge to the current legal precedent that permits abortion on demand in South Carolina until the unborn child is capable of feeling pain."
"With changes to the U.S. Supreme Court, it is our sincere hope that the legislation will withstand constitutional challenge and be implemented in order to save innocent, unborn babies' lives when a heartbeat is present," the organization said.