COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A bill that would make it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion after a “fetal heartbeat” is detected has been advanced out of the Senate Medical Affairs Subcommittee.
The legislation, which was hotly debated last session, would prevent pregnant women from seeking an abortion six to seven weeks after they conceive. If a doctor were to ignore this law, he or she could face up to two years in jail, a $10,000 fine, or both. Subcommittee members also noted being charged with a felony would strip a doctor of his or her license to practice medicine.
The version of the bill that passed the subcommittee only includes one exception to abortions: if the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother, but senators talked about adding exceptions for pregnancies as a result of rape or incest and signaled they want to debate adding those additions when the bill reaches the full Medical Affairs Committee.
After Thursday’s 3-2 subcommittee vote to advance the bill, Sen. Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) said he expects it to go before the full committee next week. He believes it will pass that committee but may be changed before reaching the Senate floor.
“My expectation is the Senate will speak on this matter in a number of weeks. Not a number of months a number of weeks,” Davis said.
Davis refuted accusations that this bill is being sped through the General Assembly.
“In last session, people need to remember this bill received several weeks of testimony from individuals. It’s a very mature bill, it’s a very vetted bill,” he said.
The bill is officially known as S1 and Davis said it’s no mistake this was the first bill filed in the Senate.
“I think the fact this bill has been taken up is an indication a substantial part of the caucus thinks this will be a priority,” he said.
Attempts to pass similar bills in the past have died in the Senate, but now Republicans have an even larger majority in the chamber than in years past. Democrats lost three seats in the 2020 elections, which gives them a total of 16 members in the Senate while Republicans have 30. It would take 24 members, a simple majority, to pass the bill in the Senate.
Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) is hopeful some Republicans will choose not to vote with their party when the bill hits the floor. Hutto said his caucus plans to vigorously fight this bill and called the legislation “bad policy.”
“We, as a group of basically older men, shouldn’t be dictating to younger women what they should be doing. This is a matter of constitutional rights that women have enjoyed, most women of childbearing age have enjoyed this constitutional right their entire lives,” Hutto said.
Hutto along with Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, questioned whether the “Fetal Heartbeat” bill is constitutional. Democrats said, because six weeks is so early in a woman’s pregnancy, she may not even know she is pregnant 40 to 50 days after conception.
Therefore, they believe this bill would effectively be a ban on abortions in South Carolina, which would mean it is not in line with Roe v. Wade.
Hutto said he does not even think this potential law would make it to the Supreme Court if it passed because so other states have passed similar laws already headed for the high court.
“There are other states who are way ahead of us in getting other cases in line for such a decision if the Supreme Court decides to takes up such a matter. It’s absolutely futility on the part of South Carolina to do this. We are going to expose taxpayers to legal fees that could be avoided.”
Gov. Henry McMaster (R-SC) was clear during his State of the State address that he will sign this bill if or when it crosses his desk.
“Send me the heartbeat bill and I will immediately sign it into law,” he said.