The South Carolina Senate passed by voice vote Wednesday a ban on abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization after one lawmaker dropped an objection to exemptions in the bill, reaching an agreement with Republicans in the house.
Sponsored by Rep. Wendy Nanney (R-Greenville), H 3114 as introduced contained no exceptions for abortion beyond 20 weeks post-fertilization. Democratic lawmakers, however, amended the bill to allow care in cases of rape, incest, and severe fetal abnormalities.
H 3114 effectively bans abortion as early as 22 weeks’ gestation. Standard medical practice measures gestational age as the number of weeks that have passed since a woman’s last normal menstrual period.
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The post-fertilization age will always be about 14 days younger than gestational age, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. However, the first trimester of pregnancy is defined by the number of weeks post-fertilization under South Carolina law.
Less than 30 abortions per year are performed after 20 weeks’ gestation in South Carolina. In 2011 there were 25 abortions performed after 20 weeks’ gestation, which represents less than 0.4 percent of the abortions performed in the state, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The GOP’s anti-choice legislation would only affect abortions performed in hospitals, since the three clinics that provide abortion care in the state don’t perform the procedure after 13 weeks’ gestation.
Alyssa Miller, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood, said the bill interferes with a decision that should remain between a woman and her doctor. “It’s the South Carolina Senate saying ‘we know better than you and we know better than your physician,’” Miller said, reported the Charleston Post and Courier.
Republicans in several states have introduced 20-week abortion bans, based on the medically disproven theory that fetuses at this stage are capable of feeling pain. Earlier this month the U.S. House passed a ban on abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation. A 20-week ban was made law this year in West Virginia, after the GOP-led state legislature overrode the governor’s veto.
South Carolina state Sen. Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) had blocked similar bills in previous legislative sessions, but accepted a compromise this time to include an exception to the ban in the case of rape, incest, or severe fetal anomalies.
“By then, most mothers are hoping they’re going in for a checkup that says ‘my baby is going to be fine,’ but there are a few cases, at this point, it is determined the child has developed some condition,” Hutto said, reported the Associated Press.
However, after the addition of the exceptions, one Republican lawmaker raised objections to the amendment.
Sen. Lee Bright (R-Roebuck) had blocked a vote on the bill because of his objection to the inclusion of the exceptions, including claiming that women would fraudulently use the rape exception to obtain abortions.
“After 20 weeks, if you wanted to get an abortion you could go and say you were raped and you could have the abortion,” said Bright, according to the Huffington Post.
Bright removed his objection to the bill after he reportedly reached an agreement with house leadership, stripping exceptions from the bill.
The bill was passed by the Republican-majority house in February, but because the bill was amended by the senate, it must return to the house. The differences in the legislative language between the bill’s versions could also be reconciled by a house-senate conference committee composed of three members from each body.
Victoria Middleton, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina, told the Washington Examiner that Bright holds a “really extreme position” even for a conservative state like South Carolina.
“I think the extreme faction in the legislature is not going to be satisfied with reducing women’s access to a legal medical procedure,” Middleton said.
Bright has promised that if the bill is returned to the senate with the exceptions still intact, he will once again block the legislation, and said that no bill that includes the compromise exceptions will go to Gov. Nikki Haley for signature or veto.
Meanwhile, Hutto has also promised to block any bill that returns to the house without the compromise exceptions.
“The debate is not over,” Bright said, reported the Associated Press.
The state’s legislative session ends June 4.