Over the past three decades, South Carolina lawmakers have blocked access to abortions, 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 U.S. Supreme Court has cleared the way for a total abortion ban in the state, some are taking a step back. Politicians, mostly Republicans, are taking note of what happened this month in Kansas, where nearly 60 percent of voters rejected a measure that would have allowed the state’s conservative legislature to ban abortions. Republican Donald Trump received 56% of the 2020 presidential vote in Kansas. Trump won 55% in South Carolina.
“The vote in Kansas confirms what most of us know,” said Sen. Sandy Sen, the only Republican senator to vote against the six-week abortion ban passed 18 months ago. “It’s people in my party, mostly men. , shouting loudly that women should have no choice from the moment of conception.”
Senn says that while she personally believes that “all babies should be born,” she also believes that people should be able to decide for themselves whether to continue a pregnancy in the early months.
South Carolina lawmakers are also watching other Republican-dominated state legislatures. Indiana passed a near-total abortion ban Friday after several days of debate, while West Virginia’s House and Senate could not immediately agree on further restrictions.
A complete ban on abortion with exceptions only if the mother’s life is in danger just made its way through the South Carolina General Assembly. Committee hearings and debates in the House and Senate must take place before any bill reaches Republican Gov. Henry McMaster’s desk.
Republican legislative leaders agreed to the special session after the US Supreme Court in June overturned Roe v. Wade. But instead of a repeat of the arguments lawmakers had in early 2021, when they voted to ban abortions after heart activity is detected — in about six weeks — some Republicans are beginning to reevaluate their positions.
“It’s like playing with real ammunition right now. What you decide will have a direct impact on a lot of South Carolinians,” said Republican Rep. Tom Davis, who voted to ban abortions based on cardiac activity last year after exceptions were added for pregnancies caused by rape and incest and those that pose a risk the life of the pregnant woman.
Davis said he is now re-examining the whole issue, weighing a fetus’s rights to live against someone’s rights to control their own body.
He says he will also consider the views of people in his affluent coastal area around Hilton Head Island. And it plans to introduce measures to improve antenatal care and give people more emotional and financial support during and after pregnancy.
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 titled “What’s THE RUSH,” saying South Carolina should not rush to pass a full ban now.
Instead, the state should step back a few years to see how the new law banning the procedure after six weeks works, the Republican lawmaker said. South Carolina should also look at what’s happening in states that now have outright bans and others that allow abortions later in pregnancy and study foster care and other social service programs to see what can be done to help them handle an influx of births, he said. . About 6,300 abortions were performed in South Carolina in 2021.
“So many questions, so few answers and solutions,” Taylor wrote in the email, which also included the statement: “I consider God’s amazing 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 up for re-election in November. His Democratic opponent, Joe Cunningham, has vowed to veto any bill that further restricts abortion. Republicans are just short of the two-thirds vote needed to override vetoes in both the House and Senate.
Abortion opponents have come a long way to get South Carolina to where it is. Lawmakers first came together in a significant way in the late 1980s and then stepped up their efforts even more in the following decades.
In 1990, they passed a bill that required the consent of either a parent or a judge before a minor could obtain an abortion. In 1994, they established 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 see an ultrasound before an abortion, and in 2010, a 24-hour waiting period passed. A ban on abortions after 20 weeks, which supporters say is the point at which a fetus can feel pain, passed in 2018. Before its June ruling, the Supreme Court had never allowed states to ban abortion before the point at about 24 weeks when the fetus can survive outside the womb.
Republican Sen. Larry Grooms, who has made ending abortion one of the biggest issues of his 25 years in the Senate, said he wants a full ban because his goal is to “save every life he can” — but he’s not going to demand a specific account because “when you go all or nothing, you might 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 ruling and the fact that the state has already restricted abortions so tightly. They fear anything on the table, including criminalizing women who seek abortions in some way.
“I think we’re going to land between crazy and crazy,” said Democratic House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford. “It won’t make sense where that line is. And we shouldn’t be in that position in the first place.”
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.