Abortion floor debate splits South Carolina Republicans

Published: Sep. 7, 2022 at 9:14 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 7, 2022 at 10:10 PM EDT
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(AP) - The South Carolina Senate’s three Republican women all said Wednesday that they could not support an abortion ban that did not include exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.

Two different attempts to get the exceptions back into the bill failed later in the day. Senators adjourned Wednesday evening without a final vote.

Republicans are facing off against one another over the ban. On one side is a core group that views any abortion as ending a life. On the other are conservatives who have digested developments elsewhere since Roe v. Wade was overturned and say they don’t want 14-year-old rape victims to have to give birth or force a mother to carry to term a fetus unable to live outside the womb.

Democrats are mostly letting them argue among themselves, refusing to help more moderate Republicans and keeping the bill as strict as possible to try to defeat it.

Senators have been told the proceedings could last days. If the legislation is approved and signed into law, South Carolina would join Indiana as states that have passed near-total abortion bans since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.

If the bill passes, it will return to the House, which approved a version last week with rape or incest exceptions up to the 12th week of pregnancies.

A first vote to try to add back the exceptions up to the 20th week of pregnancy was rejected 23-6. None of the Senate’s Democrats voted. A second attempt to allow abortions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest up to six weeks after conception failed 23-18 as many Democrats did finally vote, following their strategy to keep the ban as absolute as possible.

The three Republican women in the Senate rose early in the debate and spoke back-to-back, saying they can’t support it unless the rape and incest exceptions are restored.

“Are we simply baby machines? Are you pregnant with a dead baby? Too bad. Raped at 11 by your grandfather and got pregnant? That’s just too bad,” Sen. Penry Gustafson said.

Gustafson watched as the Senate’s longest-serving woman, Sen. Katrina Shealy, said the 41 men in the Senate would be better off listening to their wives, daughters, mothers, granddaughters and nieces.

“Yes, I’m pro-life. I’m also pro-life for the mother, the life she has with her children who are already born. I care about the children who are forced into adulthood, made up by a Legislature full of men so they can feel good about it,” Shealy said.

Senators who support the ban said the state needs to show it values all life by taking advantage of the opening created by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sen. Richard Cash compared abortion to slavery Tuesday, asking if “the human being in the womb is nothing more than the property of a woman?”

“Does an unborn human being have the most fundamental civil right of all, which is the right to life?” said Cash, who has made ending abortion his chief focus in five years in the Senate.

The same bill without the exceptions appeared to fail in the more conservative state House last week before some Republicans maneuvered through a series of votes to allow abortions for rape and incest victims up to the 12th week of pregnancy.

Senators did agree to change the bill to allow abortions when a doctor determines a fetus has a serious medical problem and will not survive outside the womb, and to allow dependents to get birth control if their parents get insurance through the health plan for state employees.

The bill would ban all abortions in South Carolina except when the mother’s life is at risk. Before they were removed, the bill also included exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest, allowing abortions up to 12 weeks after conception. In those cases, the doctor would have had to tell the patient that the crime and the abortion will be reported, with her name given to the county sheriff within 24 hours of the procedure.

South Carolina currently has a ban on abortions once cardiac activity in a fetus is detectable, which is usually about six weeks. But that law has been suspended as the South Carolina Supreme Court reviews whether it violates the state’s constitutional right to privacy. That leaves South Carolina’s older 20-week abortion ban as the current benchmark.