South Carolina lawmakers are considering legislation that would ban almost all abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected which is typically around the sixth week of pregnancy.
Democrats tried to slow down the bill by suggesting amendments like requiring the Department of Health and Environmental Control to inspect and certify ultrasound machines that would be used to detect a heartbeat and to revise state statistical information forms to include fetuses with heartbeats in the state’s population count.
The only one to pass so far allowed exemptions to the ban in cases of rape or incest, proposed by Republican Rep. Nancy Mace of Charleston. But Democrats promised dozens more as the meeting stretched more than four hours Tuesday.
The proposed legislation would require medical professionals to test for a detectable heartbeat before any abortion is performed. Author of the bill, Republican Rep. John McCravy, said if a heartbeat is detected, the bill would require the medical professional to ask the mother if she would like to hear the heartbeat and advise the woman on the chances of her successfully carrying the pregnancy to full term. The legislation would provide exceptions if a woman’s life is at risk or if there is a risk of irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.
The bill passed a subcommittee Tuesday morning and opponents voiced concerns about the timing.
“I think many times in my six terms being here, these bills have come up — comes up for political points,” said Democratic Rep. John King of Rock Hill. “We are at the end of this legislative year, and it’s mighty strange that we rush this bill along.”
Democratic Rep. Justin Bamberg offered many of the amendments, saying he was trying to find ways to improve the safety and constitutionality of a bill that will inevitably pass.
“It is disturbing to some members when we are forced to debate, take up, argue over bills that are unconstitutional on their face,” Bamberg said. “Just because myself and others are fighting or taking a different view on this particular bill, doesn’t mean we’re pro-abortion.”
McCravy said he thinks House lawmakers will have the votes to pass the legislation. There are currently over 50 co-sponsors on the Greenwood Republican’s bill.
Republican-led legislatures in several other states have considered similar bills to ban or restrict abortions in hopes of getting a case before the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge the court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, the landmark decision legalizing abortion nationwide. Mississippi and Kentucky have passed similar proposals, and Georgia’s governor is considering a similar ban.
McCravy said he reviewed other state legislation and he thinks the bill is constitutional and the financial cost of any lawsuit pales in comparison to saving lives.
“I don’t think we should give up. We have a U.S. Supreme Court that has changed,” McCravy said.
Opponents of the bill said many women don’t even know they are pregnant by the time a fetal heartbeat is detected and this legislation would remove their ability to make choices about their pregnancies.
“The women of our state have the intellectual and moral capabilities to make the right decisions about pregnancy and parenting. Government interference in these deeply personal decisions is unnecessary and it is harmful,” Ann Warner, CEO of the Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network said in a statement.
Supporters of the bill said it is about doing what is right.
“Because that heart is beating, those babies deserve protection under the law because our constitution says that we are guaranteed life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” said Alexia Newman, executive director of the Carolina Pregnancy Center.