COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The Fetal Heartbeat Bill banning abortions in South Carolina after six to eight weeks cleared a key hurdle Wednesday and could be passed out of the Senate as early as Thursday.
“We’ve got a way to go, but we’ve never been this close,” Gov. Henry McMaster said Wednesday, standing by Republican leaders and activists who support the bill. “My request, my urging, is don’t stop now.”
In a 29-17 vote, the Senate moved the bill past what is known as a second reading. While Democrats will have a chance to offer more amendments and filibuster the bill before it is voted on one last time in the Senate, party leaders now expect it to pass the chamber.
“This will probably pass the Senate and we will move on to more meaningful topics in the weeks to come,” said Orangeburg Democrat and Senate Minority Leader, Brad Hutto.
Only one Republican voted with the Democrats against the bill: Sen. Sandy Senn, R-Charleston.
On Wednesday, the Senate also voted to add another exception to the bill, in cases of pregnancies where there is a fetal anomaly. This is in addition to an exception for pregnancies as a result of rape or incest that was added previously.
During the floor debate, Democrats expressed their frustration with Republicans beginning the legislative session with prioritizing a bill on abortion.
Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, addressed the issue directly in front of the whole chamber.
“Hours upon hours, upon hours, upon hours…that we’re going to spend debating the merits of an unconstitutional bill when we have people dying in the state of South Carolina due to COVID,” Kimpson said.
The debate surrounding the constitutionality of the Fetal Heartbeat Bill has been central to Democrat’s arguments against the bill’s passage.
Democratic Minority Leader Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, has said the bill will waste taxpayer money on legal fees for lawyers fighting the case for the bill on behalf of the state in the courts.
“There is going to be a challenge to Roe V Wade in the federal court sometime in the future. But there are 28 other states that already have cases pending. South Carolina wants to put our case out there. It will just cost us a lot of money. It will not add to whether the courts decide whatever they are going to decide,” Hutto said.
McMaster was asked about this argument against the bill and disagreed with the minority leader’s assessment.
“There are cases going through the different districts and different circuits where they are getting different results and that is a key thing for the Supreme Court where one circuit says ‘yes’ and another says ‘no,’” he said. “We think it’s a matter of time before that happens and we think we are going to win.”
McMaster also rejected Democrats’ arguments that Republican lawmakers are wasting time arguing for an abortion bill rather than focusing on the state’s fight against COVID-19.
“We are spending most of our time on the pandemic and we have been doing so for some months now -- ever since it got here,” the governor said. “There are a lot of other important things going on, we just have to work a little harder, work a little faster, work a little harder every day.”
Other Republicans also said the Fetal Heartbeat Bill is a priority for them because it’s a key issue for their constituents. They say this is about protecting life at all stages.
“When I go back home every day they say, ‘If you don’t pass Heartbeat why did we vote for you?,’” said freshman Sen. Josh Kimbrell, R-Spartanburg.
It takes a simple majority of present senators to pass the bill and move it to the House where Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, said he believes it will also pass.