Lawmakers approve abortion ban in health plan

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina legislators approved barring the state's health insurance plan from covering abortions in cases of rape or incest, but allowed a limited exception when the mother's life is in danger, in an overnight session that continued Thursday morning.

The House reverted to the contentious issue as debate continued on the state's $5 billion spending plan — down from $7 billion two years ago. It was the House's first all-nighter in years. One legislator curled up with a blanket on a couch in the lobby to get some rest as the debate raged.

The heated discussion followed the House's 57-54 vote late Tuesday rejecting the ban. But Republicans opted to reconsider the issue, and Democrats' attempts to allow exceptions were rejected.

But the House approved Rep. Greg Delleney's amendment 75-38 that the state would pay if an abortion was an "incidental" effect of a doctor trying to save a mother's life, provided the doctor was working to save both. Democrats called the vague language ridiculous.

Rep. James Smith said the ban would again victimize the victim of a heinous crime, who should be able to make a personal decision if a pregnancy results. "We don't live with the consequences of that decision," the Columbia Democrat said.

He said it's a minute cost to the state, so money is not the issue, noting the state paid for half a dozen abortions last year under those exceptions.

Rep. Joey Millwood assailed the number.

"We killed six babies last year on the taxpayers' dime," the Landrum Republican said over and over for several minutes. "That's embarrassing."

Delleney, R-Chester, said a woman could still get an abortion, just not with state money.

But poor women don't have the money, said Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, a social worker.

"There are going to be a lot of unwanted children in the world," said the Orangeburg Democrat, who was the only female legislator to take the podium to address the issue. "I wonder what your plan is after you've forced her to have that child."

Democrats' proposals to require the state pay for the food, education and mental health issues of children born in that scenario were easily defeated.

At times, the podium seemed more like a church pulpit.

"It's not for us to judge other people. That's what my Good Book tells me. It's not for me to pass laws up here to make other people be judged. That's for the good Lord to do," said House Minority Leader Harry Ott, who often votes with Republicans on abortion issues but said he couldn't on this one.

Republicans argued it's an ethical issue about protecting the innocent, and that a child should not pay for a father's crimes.

Democrats accused their GOP counterparts of playing God, and imposing a religious viewpoint on others. In sometimes graphic detail, they recounted women they knew who were raped or victims of incest, and questioned lawmakers' ability to tell them they know best.

"Our priorities are all messed up," Rep. Leon Howard, D-Columbia, said following the nearly six-hour abortion debate, which followed repeated rejections of proposals to raise more money to stem agency cuts.

The House voted 106-12 to keep a 30-cent cigarette tax increase in the state budget, but repeatedly rejected proposals to increase the tax any higher or raise money in other ways. South Carolina's 7 cents-per-pack cigarette tax is the nation's lowest and has not changed since 1977. The money would go in a trust fund for future Medicaid expenses. It could not be spent next fiscal year.

The House also voted 69-43 to keep a $10 million loan to the state's only PGA tournament in the state budget.

The loan would come from the state's insurance reserve fund if the Heritage golf tournament on Hilton Head Island can't find a sponsor to replace Verizon, which says this is its final year as sponsor.

Opponents said it didn't make sense in a year of deep cuts to services, including layoffs of teachers, state law enforcement, troopers, public defenders and Juvenile Justice workers, as well as possible cuts to services for the disabled.

Democrats and Republicans argued the tournament — held in April following the Masters in Augusta, Ga. — supports hundreds of jobs and pumps tens of millions of dollars into the state through spectators' spending. They said the state must show its support or risk seeing the tournament go elsewhere.

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