Awaiting Supreme Court ruling, SC lawmakers already preparing for potential special session on abortion

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Published: Jun. 17, 2022 at 1:30 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A US Supreme Court ruling that could have significant impact on abortion access nationwide is expected in the coming weeks, and some South Carolina lawmakers are already preparing to potentially change state law in response.

A leaked draft opinion reported by POLITICO last month indicated a majority of justices were set to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, which guarantees access to abortions across the country, in their ruling on the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case.

While the South Carolina General Assembly ended its 2022 regular legislative session in May, it passed a resolution before adjourning that outlines the reasons for which lawmakers could return to Columbia. Among them, members could be called back to the State House to respond to the Dobbs ruling.

South Carolina already has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, the Fetal Heartbeat Law, which was passed last year and bans most abortions after around six weeks.

That legislation has been blocked in courts since shortly after Republican Gov. Henry McMaster signed it into law, but South Carolina could be among the states looking to put even more restrictive measures in place, depending on how the Supreme Court rules.

In anticipation of that decision, new Speaker of the House Murrell Smith, R – Sumter, recently established an ad hoc committee that will take public testimony and guide the House’s legislative response to a ruling, which is anticipated in late June.

“I’m very excited, as you can imagine,” the committee’s chair, Rep. John McCravy, R – Greenwood, said. “I’ve got, I’ve had people help me getting together all the bills from all across the country that have been filed, all the different trigger laws, all the different total bans, all the different types of exceptions.”

McCravy is heading up the panel, which Smith tasked with writing up the details on H.5399, a bill introduced in the House on the last day of the regular legislative session that would “prohibit abortions in the state of South Carolina,” but does not yet include any other specifics.

The 12-member committee is made up of eight Republicans — McCravy, House Majority Leader David Hiott of Pickens, Rep. Micah Caskey of Lexington, Rep. Heather Crawford of Horry, Rep. Jeff Johnson of Horry, Rep. Josiah Magnuson of Spartanburg, Rep. Travis Moore of Spartanburg, and Rep. Melissa Oremus of Aiken — and four Democrats — Rep. Chandra Dillard of Greenville, Rep. Jackie “Coach” Hayes of Dillon, Rep. Rosalyn Henderson-Myers of Spartanburg, and Rep. David Weeks of Sumter.

Seven of those members are also part of the State House’s conservative Family Caucus, which backs anti-abortion legislation, calling itself “unashamedly pro-life,” and of which McCravy is also the chair.

“I personally am certainly for a total abortion ban,” McCravy told reporters. “We’ll have to see what the will of the committee is. I feel like a lot of members are in the same vein.”

So, too, is McMaster, who has voiced his support for a ban on the procedure without exceptions for rape or incest.

But if the Supreme Court opens the door for states to completely outlaw abortions for the first time in decades, the question would be if there is enough support to pass it in the legislature.

Last year, one Republican senator, Sen. Sandy Senn of Charleston, voted against the Fetal Heartbeat Bill, and others said they would not support it unless exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother were included, which ultimately were.

“I think that quite possibly the votes are there to make sure there is a total ban,” House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D – Richland, said.

But Rutherford said his vote would not be among them, having joined the majority of Democrats in 2021 in voting against the Fetal Heartbeat Bill.

“There is no doubt in my mind that women in this state, doctors in this state that are currently performing life-saving operations to save women that may involve abortion are going to be in trouble,” Rutherford said.

In the other chamber of the State House, individual senators have filed legislation in anticipation of a Supreme Court decision, including a bill filed by Sen. Larry Grooms, R – Berkeley and the lead sponsor of the Fetal Heartbeat Bill, and other Republicans in the final week of the session that would outlaw abortions, with carveouts for medical emergencies that put the mother’s life at risk and fetal anomalies but not for rape or incest.

But Senate leadership has not formed any committees at this point as the House has done, instead waiting for a final Supreme Court ruling to determine if and how to proceed.

State lawmakers could be called back as early as July 1 for a special session, but Senate leaders have said they would not expect a potential session to happen until late summer or fall.

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