Female senators spearhead another rejection of near-total abortion ban in S.C.

Published: Apr. 27, 2023 at 6:55 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A push to ban almost all abortions in South Carolina is done for the year.

The state Senate rejected the “Human Life Protection Act” Thursday afternoon in a 22-21 vote, which bars the chamber from debating the same legislation for the rest of 2023.

The House of Representatives passed H.3774— an abortion ban from conception with exceptions for the mother’s life and health, sexual assault victims, and fatal fetal anomalies — earlier this year.

This week, the Senate began debating it, though Senate Republican Leader Shane Massey, R – Edgefield, had repeatedly said there was not enough support in his chamber to pass anything more restrictive than a six-week ban, which senators approved earlier this year.

Massey’s assertions came after the Senate twice rejected a ban from conception during a special session last fall, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade in June.

Events played out in much the same way this week, with the three-day debate culminating with the one-vote margin to stop the bill a third time Thursday.

“I think we all kind of knew where this was headed,” Massey said. “But look, we wanted to give it our best shot. We gave it our best shot.”

That shot fell short up against the five women in the 46-member state Senate.

The three Republicans, one Democrat, and one independent senator took turns leading a two-day filibuster on the bill.

“This is certainly not a political issue. This is a human-rights issue, it’s an issue of women’s rights, privacy rights, family rights, and certainly partisan politics should not have anything to do with it,” Sen. Margie Bright Matthews, D – Colleton, said.

The five women were joined by every other Democratic senator and three Republican men to vote on Thursday afternoon to end the debate on a near-total ban for the rest of this year.

That kills the bill for now.

“Today, to win or to at least put the issue to rest for this year, was more than rewarding,” Sen. Mia McLeod, I – Richland, said. “The fight continues. It’s an ongoing battle, and we just do what we have to do to protect the women and girls of our state.”

Abortion is currently legal in South Carolina before about 20 weeks into a pregnancy, as it has been since last August, when the state Supreme Court temporarily blocked a previous six-week ban that it later struck down in January, on the grounds it violated the state constitutional right to privacy.

The Senate passed a new six-week ban in February, and to this point, the House of Representatives has been unwilling to take that bill up.

Massey is urging House Republicans to do that now, with just six days left in this year’s legislative session.

“It’s up to the House now. They have the ability to prevent thousands of abortions in South Carolina, and I hope they’ll take that,” Massey said.

The Republican-dominated General Assembly has failed to enact tighter abortion restrictions in South Carolina following Roe’s overturn, which sent the question of abortion access back to the states.

However, other states in the southeast have imposed more restrictive measures, and preliminary data from DHEC shows the number of out-of-state residents seeking abortions in South Carolina has skyrocketed in that time.

This time last year, about 4% of abortions in South Carolina were performed on residents of other states.

Last month, it was about 45%, and about 15 times more residents of other states sought abortions in South Carolina than they did a year ago.

Speaker of the House Murrell Smith, R – Sumter, was asked by reporters Wednesday evening what his chamber would do next when it became apparent the House-passed ban from conception had almost no shot at making it out of the Senate.

“The House is always going to evaluate its options to protecting life,” Smith said. “We’re not committing to anything, and we’re not foreclosing on anything. The only commitment we have, is we have a commitment in this body to protect life.”

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