Lowcountry Headlines

Lowcountry Headlines


Republican abortion debate inches toward resolution in South Carolina

Austin, Texas Abortion Debate, July, 2013

Photo: Getty Images

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Abortion access would be almost entirely banned after about six weeks of pregnancy under a bill being debated in the South Carolina House after the state Senate recently rejected a proposal to nearly outlaw the procedure that House leaders had long demanded.

The two GOP-dominated chambers’ disagreement epitomizes the intra-Republican debates over how far to restrict access that have developed nationwide since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last year and allowed states to set their own policies on abortion.

“It became like we were playing with live ammunition,” said South Carolina Republican Sen. Tom Davis, who helped block the near-total ban but supports other limits. “It was like this is for real now and everything that we debate and pass is going to be law.”

The end of federal abortion protections has forced politicians to acknowledge nuances in opinion that public polling has long shown, said Alesha Doan, a University of Kansas professor who studies public policy and gender. The conflict within the Republican Party arises from officials’ attempts to flesh out their positions on an issue where they are out of step with most Americans, she said.

“Once you get what you want, the real work begins,” Doan said. “What are the on-the-ground implications for pregnant people’s healthcare? What are the legal implications, the public health implications, the political implications?”

The impasse in South Carolina dates back to a special session last fall when House lawmakers insisting on a near-total ban did not meet to negotiate with their Senate counterparts pushing for a ban around six weeks.

The stalemate persisted even after the state Supreme Court struck down a previous law banning abortions once cardiac activity is detected.

That January decision left abortion legal through 22 weeks of pregnancy, and a sharp increase in abortions since then has rankled Republicans. Provisional state health department data show South Carolina reported nearly 1,000 abortions in each of the first three months this year, after totaling just over 200 in the one full month the previous ban took effect.

The House is now weighing a Senate bill similar to the one they didn’t consider, without any real discussion, last year. The measure would ban abortion when an ultrasound detects cardiac activity, around six weeks and before most people know they are pregnant.

Senators believe the new version contains tweaks that will overcome anticipated legal challenges this time around.

Opponents say a ban around six weeks is essentially an outright abortion ban. South Carolinians oppose such restrictions “because it pushes health care further out of reach for the vulnerable, and makes pregnancy more dangerous for everyone,” Ann Warner, the CEO of Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network, said last week in written testimony.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Larry Grooms said the majority party’s “troubles” began last year when some House lawmakers “wanted to be more pro-life” by insisting on a near-total ban that lacked the necessary support in the Senate.

“For those folks, the politics were more important than the policy,” said Grooms, whose biography lists awards from anti-abortion and conservative Christian groups.

This session, the House could have passed the Senate bill without amendments and it would have reached the governor’s desk to become law. But a House committee last week approved changes to mandate child support starting at conception and require a judge sign-off on any minor’s request for an abortion.

The focus is on which changes make the final House version. Davis said the Senate’s ability to end debate and pass the bill would be jeopardized if it contains language that moves toward granting full legal rights to fertilized eggs.

A late night is expected even after Republicans invoked rules to limit debate. House Speaker Murrell Smith has said the chamber will not adjourn until the measure gets approval. Democrats began slowing the process Tuesday by speaking for all three allotted minutes on each of their hundreds of amendments and forcing other procedural votes.

“We are going to make it hurt if they’re going to force this on us,” Democratic Rep. Beth Bernstein said at a Tuesday press conference, flanked by dozens of supporters with signs reading “BANS OFF OUR BODIES.”

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