‘Because that heart is beating, those babies deserve protection under the law…’
(Tom Barton and Avery G. Wilks, The State – Columbia, SC) A panel of South Carolina lawmakers on Tuesday advanced a bill that would ban nearly all abortions in South Carolina, after hearing competing pleas from pastors, women’s rights advocates, pregnancy counselors, parents and doctors.
The GOP-backed legislation would outlaw abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, typically around the sixth week of pregnancy. Six weeks is before some women know they are pregnant and long before the fetus can survive outside the womb.
“I have seen, I have heard that beating heart at six weeks,” Alexia Newman with the Carolina Pregnancy Center in Spartanburg told lawmakers Tuesday. “Because that heart is beating, those babies deserve protection under the law,” she said.
Some abortion proponents, meanwhile, sought to appeal to the lawmakers’ conservative sensibilities by framing it as a government intrusion into citizens’ individual rights.
“It goes too far inserting government into our personal and private lives, and impeding decision that should be made between a woman and her doctor,” Columbia resident Maxine Todd testified before lawmakers.
Tuesday’s hearing represented the first real abortion debate of the year in the South Carolina State House. It comes nearly a year after Democrats in the South Carolina Senate filibustered to death a proposal to outlaw virtually all abortions in South Carolina.
A House panel advanced the bill—the first of several steps before it can become law—by a 3-2 vote that split along party lines Tuesday morning. It was set to be debated by the full House Judiciary Committee Tuesday afternoon, even as House Democrats on the committee pledged to prolong debate on the bill with hundreds of proposed amendments.
The proposal’s supporters say a fetal heartbeat is a crucial indicator that a fetus will make it to birth. According to the bill, the state has “legitimate interests from the outset of the pregnancy in protecting the health of the woman and the life of an unborn human individual who may be born.”
But some pro-abortion activists told lawmakers the bill would negatively impact women’s health care in the state. Others, including Vicki Ringer of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, warned that it will lead to a costly legal fight the state will lose.
The bill, if it becomes law, would effectively ban abortions in South Carolina starting at around the sixth week of pregnancy. Current state law prohibits abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy and later. That law was passed in 2016 as part of ongoing efforts among conservative lawmakers to restrict women’s access to abortion.
The “fetal heartbeat” abortion ban would make an exception to save the mother’s life or when the procedure is deemed necessary to avert serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical harm. However, the bill does not include an exception for severe fetal anomalies that would lead to death after birth. Those anomalies often develop later in the pregnancy. The bill also does not make an exception for rape or incest.
Any physician who violates the bill’s provisions would be charged with a felony, punishable by a $10,000 fine or up to two years in prison, or both.
Tuesday morning’s vote appears to be an effort to push the bill to the House floor and keep the issue alive this year. Bills that don’t pass the House or the Senate before April 10 “crossover deadline” face a much more difficult road to passage this year.
Democratic Reps. Mandy Powers Norrell of Lancaster County and Will Wheeler of Lee County voted against advancing the bill.
And state Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg, said Monday he’s determined to thwart the bill from advancing in the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday afternoon.
High profile efforts by left-leaning states, including Virginia and New York, have pushed recent abortion activism to extreme levels, advocating for third-trimester partial-birth abortions, with some like Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam even hinting that a baby already born might in some cases be killed.
Several states have answered by signing into law similar fetal heartbeat bills, including Mississippi, Kentucky and Iowa. Georgia lawmakers on Friday passed a fetal heartbeat ban that is expected to be signed into law by the state’s Republican governor. And Florida, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas are expected to approve similar measures this year, according to The New York Times.
The measures, however, have been blocked by the courts, with judges in Iowa, Kentucky and North Dakota halting the bills from taking effect or declaring them unconstitutional.
Additionally, last week, North Carolina U.S. District Court Judge William Osteen struck down a North Carolina ban on abortions starting at 20 weeks of pregnancy, saying the law is unconstitutional.
Osteen wrote that the Supreme Court has protected abortion as a constitutional right until a fetus can live outside the mother’s womb, typically around the 22nd to 24th week of gestation.
The right case would face its ultimate test in the U.S. Supreme Court, where Justice Brett Kavanaugh may upend the pro-abortion majority long held in place by the retired centrist Anthony Kennedy.
On the other hand, Kavanaugh has already shown he may approach the issue with extreme caution given the divisiveness over it. Chief Justice John Roberts also has proven to be increasingly unpredictable in his support for conservative issues.
More than 250 bill restricting abortion have been filed in 41 states this year, according to Planned Parenthood. Compared to this point in 2018, there has been a 62.5 percent increase in the number of six-week abortion bans introduced, according to the family planning services and abortion provider.
Liberty Headlines’ Ben Sellers contributed to this report.
(c)2019 The State (Columbia, S.C.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.