Some South Carolina Republicans pause on the brink of an abortion ban

COLUMBIA, SC — For the past three decades, South Carolina lawmakers have undermined access to abortion, requiring ultrasounds, parental consent and 24-hour waiting periods, and banning the procedure early in pregnancy: first after 20 weeks, then after six. .

But now that the US Supreme Court has cleared the way to ban abortion outright in the state, some are taking a step back. Politicians, mostly Republicans, are taking notice of what happened this month in Kansas, where nearly 60% of voters rejected a ballot measure that would have allowed the state’s Conservative Legislature to ban abortion. Republican Donald Trump received 56% of the 2020 presidential vote in Kansas. Trump won 55% in South Carolina.

“The Kansas vote affirms what most of us know,” said Sen. Sandy Senn, the only Republican senator to vote against the six-week abortion ban that passed 18 months ago. “It’s the people in my group, mostly men, who scream louder than women shouldn’t have a choice from the moment of conception.”

Senn says that while she personally believes “every baby should be born,” she also believes that people should be able to decide for themselves whether to continue a pregnancy for the first few months.

South Carolina lawmakers are also looking at other Republican-dominated legislatures. Indiana passed a near-total ban on abortion on Friday after days of debate, while the West Virginia House and Senate couldn’t immediately agree on more restrictions.

A total ban on abortion with exceptions only if the life of the mother is in danger has just started its way through the South Carolina General Assembly. Committee hearings and debates on the House and Senate floor will need to take place before any bill reaches the desk of Republican Gov. Henry McMaster.

Republican legislative leaders agreed to the special session after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. But instead of a repeat of the arguments lawmakers had in early 2021, when they passed a ban on abortions after cardiac activity is detected at about six weeks, some Republicans have begun to reevaluate their positions.

“It’s like you’re playing with live ammo right now. What you are deciding will have an immediate effect on many South Carolinians,” said Republican Rep. Tom Davis, who voted to ban abortions for cardiac activity last year after exceptions. pregnancies caused by rape and incest and those that put the life of the pregnant woman at risk were added.

Davis said he is now reconsidering the whole issue, weighing the rights of a fetus to live against the rights of someone to control their own body.

He says he will also consider the views of people in his affluent waterfront district around Hilton Head Island. And he plans to introduce measures to improve prenatal care and give people more emotional and financial support during and after pregnancies.

Rep. Bill Taylor stood right behind McMaster as he signed the six-week ban into law. Last month he sent an email to his constituents with the headline in all caps “WHAT’S THE RUSH?” saying South Carolina shouldn’t rush into passing an outright ban now.

Instead, the state should step back for a few years to see how its new law banning the procedure after six weeks works, the Republican lawmaker said. South Carolina should also examine what is happening in states that now have an outright ban and others that allow abortions later in pregnancy and study foster care programs and other social services to see what can be done to help them manage the influx of births, he said. . In 2021, about 6,300 abortions were performed in South Carolina.

“So many questions, so few answers and solutions,” Taylor wrote in the email, which also included the statement, “I treasure God’s wonderful gift of life. I readily accept the pro-life label.”

One reason some abortion opponents don’t want to wait to pass a stricter abortion ban is McMaster, who is running for re-election in November. His Democratic opponent, Joe Cunningham, has vowed to veto any bill that further restricts abortion. Republicans are a few votes short of the two-thirds needed to override vetoes in both the House and Senate.

Opponents of abortion have come a long way to get South Carolina where it is. Lawmakers first coalesced in any meaningful way in the late 1980s, then intensified their actions even more in subsequent decades.

In 1990, they passed a bill that required parental or judge consent before a minor could have an abortion. In 1994, they enacted strict requirements for abortion clinics. And in 1997, they passed a law banning partial-birth abortions, which are rare.

In 2008, a law required mothers to sign a form telling them they could look at an ultrasound before an abortion, and in 2010 a 24-hour waiting period passed. A ban on abortion after 20 weeks, which advocates say is the point at which a fetus can feel pain, was passed in 2018. Before its June ruling, the Supreme Court had never allowed states to ban abortion before the point of about 24 weeks when a fetus can survive outside the womb.

Republican Sen. Larry Grooms, who has made abortion one of the biggest issues of his 25 years in the Senate, said he wants an outright ban because his goal is to “save as many lives as he can” but he won’t. demand a certain bill because “when you do it all or nothing, you can end up with nothing.

“Every pro-life bill we’ve passed in the last 25 years has helped people understand the humanity of the child,” Grooms said.

Democrats in the Legislature say it’s too late for reflection, given the Supreme Court’s decision and the fact that the state has already restricted abortion so severely. They fear that everything is on the table, including the criminalization of women who seek abortion in any way.

“I think we’re going to land somewhere between crazy and insane,” said House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford. “Where that line is won’t make any sense. And we shouldn’t be in this position in the first place.”

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