Fetal heartbeat abortion ban advances to South Carolina Senate floor


A bill that would outlaw most abortions in South Carolina was approved narrowly Thursday by the Senate Medical Affairs Committee and is headed to the Senate floor for debate.

Senate Bill 1 would make it a felony to perform an abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, except in medical emergencies. A fetal heartbeat usually can be detected about six weeks after conception before many women realize they are pregnant.

Members of the Medical Affairs Committee approved the bill in a 9-8 vote.

The bill would require abortion providers to conduct an ultrasound and listen for a fetal heartbeat before performing an abortion and to advise the woman of alternatives to an abortion, such as adoption or foster care. Performing an abortion when there is a detectable fetal heartbeat would become a felony punishable by a $10,000 fine and up to two years in prison.

Lawmakers on the committee debated several amendments to the bill Thursday, including one by Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, to add exceptions for rape and incest.

“I can't vote for a bill that is going to go to a 10-year-old girl – and there's an actual case who was raped by her father – and say to that 10-year-old girl, ‘You are gonna have that baby,’ ” Davis said.

Speaking in opposition to the amendment, Sen. Richard Cash, R-Anderson, said a rape exception would put a woman’s right to choose whether to carry a fetus to term ahead of the fetus' right to life.

“Our constitution and justice requires equal protection of the laws,” Cash said. “This amendment basically says if the unborn baby through no fault of its own is conceived as a result of rape, then we are not going to provide equal protection under the laws.”

The rape exception amendment failed by a 7-4 vote, with six members not voting.

Committee members amended the bill to require the state to cover prenatal, delivery and postnatal care costs if the mother does not have health insurance, as long as the mother resides legally in the U.S. That amendment passed in a 7-4 vote, with six members not voting.

The heartbeat bill has 14 cosponsors in the Senate, but a companion bill has not been filed in the House.

Several other states have passed heartbeat bills, but none have been enforced because of legal challenges. If passed by the South Carolina Legislature, the bill likely would face legal challenges.

Gov. Henry McMaster has pledged to sign a heartbeat bill if passed by the Legislature. His budget proposal included a provision to prevent taxpayer money from funding abortions.

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