SC GOP lawmakers remain locked in stalemate over tighter abortion restrictions

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Published: Nov. 1, 2022 at 10:28 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Since this summer, South Carolina’s Republican-dominated state legislature has been hearing testimony, debating, and trying to tighten up the state’s abortion restrictions.

But the House of Representatives and the Senate remain locked in a stalemate over their two different versions of the legislation, and their time is running out to pass a bill before they are forced to wait until next year to try again.

A six-member conference committee — made up of three senators and three House members, with two Republican men and one Democratic woman representing each chamber — has until Nov. 13 to work out a compromise between the House and Senate versions of the bills and get it passed by a majority in both chambers.

The panel met for the first time Tuesday for about an hour, and while a few bills were proposed, the committee did not vote on them or come to an agreement to send to the rest of the General Assembly.

After the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, the South Carolina House of Representatives passed a ban on abortion from conception, with exceptions for the mother’s life and health and sexual assault victims.

The Senate initially tried to pass a ban on conception as well but failed to garner enough support among Republicans to pass as restrictive a bill.

Senators eventually approved legislation that would adjust South Carolina’s current six-week ban on abortion, which the state Supreme Court temporarily blocked from being enforced in August as justices now weigh a decision on a challenge to the law’s constitutionality.

The Senate bill also fixed language in the existing six-week ban that led to the Supreme Court issuing the temporary injunction.

Neither chamber would agree to the other’s bill, so it was sent to the six-member conference committee that met on Tuesday to work out a compromise.

To do so and send legislation to the entire General Assembly, at least two members from each chamber must approve it.

The two Democrats on the panel, Rep. Spencer Wetmore of Charleston County and Sen. Margie Bright Matthews of Colleton County, are unlikely to vote in favor of a bill that further restricts abortions, so all four Republicans would most likely need to be on board to sign off on a compromise.

“I don’t think there’s any amount of lipstick on the pig. I think this is a cruel and restrictive bill, and I don’t think there’s any amount of changing and modifying and mollifying that would make it — I think we’re at risk of driving doctors out of the state and not providing the healthcare that women need, and I think anytime that you hold criminal prosecution and licensure and potentially civil and statutory fines over a doctor’s head, we’re diminishing women’s healthcare in this state, so I don’t think there’s any amount of amendments that would make me support this,” Wetmore said.

Two Republicans, Rep. John McCravy of Greenwood County and Sen. Richard Cash of Anderson County, proposed bills to ban abortion from conception, using the House version as their foundations but including exceptions and some elements from the less-restrictive Senate bill.

McCravy told reporters after the meeting he was unlikely to vote in favor of a less-restrictive bill based on the Senate’s version, banning abortion after around six weeks, to get new legislation in place by the deadline and break the stalemate.

“Probably not,” McCravy said. “That’s the reason that we came back after Roe v. Wade was not to repass the Heartbeat Bill but to decide what the law in South Carolina would be for our people and for what our state wants to do.”

But Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey reiterated several times during Tuesday’s meeting that not enough Republicans will vote for that more restrictive bill to pass it in the Senate.

“It’s clear to be that the base of the Senate is the only thing that has a chance to get the votes in the Senate, and I think that is razor thin,” Massey said. “So if the goal is to pass something, I think it has to be very close to the Senate version. But if that’s not the goal, then I guess it doesn’t matter what you bring out, right?”

McCravy — who chaired the House ad hoc committee that took testimony and laid the groundwork for that chamber’s abortion legislation this summer — responded to Massey’s repeated comments that he was not willing to give up on passing a ban from conception at this point.

“Well, there was no chance that the 1969 Mets would win the World Series either,” McCravy said. “So you don’t know what’s going to happen until you have the actual vote.”

Ultimately, the conference committee didn’t vote on either Cash’s or McCravy’s bills, with some members saying they wanted more time to read over them after only receiving the legislation earlier in the day.

The committee plans to meet again on Nov. 9, the morning after Election Day, to give working out on a compromise another shot.

But even if they do reach an agreement, that essentially leaves them with the rest of Wednesday and Thursday, before the Veterans Day holiday on Friday and the deadline of Sunday, to get it approved by majority votes in both chambers of the General Assembly.

If they do not beat that deadline, lawmakers would have to wait until the new legislative session begins in January to reintroduce abortion legislation.

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