A bill that would criminalize most abortions in South Carolina passed the first hurdle of legislative approval Thursday.
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.
After listening to four hours of testimony Thursday, members of the Senate Medical Affairs Subcommittee – joined at one point by Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette – approved the bill with an amendment, 3-2.
The bill would require abortion providers to conduct an ultrasound and listen for a fetal heartbeat before performing an abortion. 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.
Several other states have passed so-called “heartbeat bills,” but none have been enforced because legal challenges. If passed by the South Carolina Legislature, the bill likely would face legal challenges.
Subcommittee Chairperson Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, said he plans to propose several amendments to the bill once it reaches the full Medical Affairs Committee, including an amendment to provide prenatal care for uninsured women through the Department of Health and Human Services.
“My rationale for this is if the state, in this bill, is going to be asserting an interest in the unborn child, that commensurate with that is an interest in the well being and health of that unborn child,” Davis said.
Davis said he also plans to propose amendments to include a rape exception, add extra support for adoption and foster care, and allow pharmacists to authorize standing prescriptions to dispense contraceptives.
During his State of the State address Wednesday evening, Gov. Henry McMaster pledged to sign the heartbeat bill if it passes the South Carolina Legislature. His budget proposal included a provision to prevent taxpayer dollars from funding abortions.
A companion bill to Senate Bill 1 has not been filed in the House.
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