Rape and incest exceptions quietly added to SC abortion bill
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina senators on Tuesday quietly added exceptions for rape and incest to a bill that would ban almost all abortions in the state, likely boosting the proposal’s chances of finally passing the chamber and becoming law.
The action came during the first day of debate over the bill, which would require doctors to use an ultrasound to try to detect a fetal heartbeat if they think pregnant women are at least eight weeks along. If they find a heartbeat, and the pregnancy is not the result of rape or incest, they can’t perform the abortion unless the mother’s life is in danger.
Most women don’t recognize they are pregnant until after a heartbeat can be detected.
A first vote on the ”“ South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act” is expected Wednesday. Senate Republicans hope to get to a final vote Thursday, but have acknowledged they will give Democrats ample time to speak on the bill.
Some moderate Republicans have said they can’t support the bill if it doesn’t include exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest. Several more said the same on Tuesday.
But at least one conservative Republican, Sen. Richard Cash of Powdersville, said he opposed abortion even in case of rape.
“Punish the rapist. Whatever you think needs to be done to right the scales of justice — but it doesn’t belong on the baby,” Cash said.
In his 90-second speech proposing the exceptions, Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey also suggested requiring doctors to report any rape or incest cases to law enforcement. The Republican from Edgefield folded his notes, ended the remarks without any flourish and asked that his amendment be approved. Senate President Harvey Peeler didn’t pause, asking for senators to vote “aye” or “nay” out loud and then ruling the amendment passed.
After fighting off the exceptions in committee meetings twice before, conservatives seemed surprised by the quick move. Cash later said he missed the vote and asked to have it recorded that he opposed the exceptions.
Senators expect a long debate Wednesday before a vote and again Thursday before the final vote. If Democrats plan to filibuster like they have successfully in previous years, it will likely be before that final vote.
But new Senate rules passed after the party gained three seats in November’s elections means senators will need no more than 26 members to force the final vote. Republicans now have 30 senators; Democrats have 16. The bill has made it through the House before, only to fail to make it over that procedural hurdle in the Senate. Gov. Henry McMaster has said repeatedly he will sign the bill immediately.
Current South Carolina law outlaws abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy. Abortion opponents in South Carolina have been eager to restrict it further, discouraged that about a dozen other states have passed similar or even more restrictive proposals. All are tied up in court because federal law still allows women to have an abortion.
Under the proposed state bill, doctors could be convicted of a felony and face up to two years in prison if they don’t check for a heartbeat or detect one and perform an abortion anyway. The woman having the abortion would not face punishment.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.