After hours of debate and a walkout by House Democrats, the South Carolina House approved a fetal heartbeat bill that would ban most abortions in the state.
Lawmakers passed the bill on second reading Wednesday, 79-35. Since the Senate passed the bill last month, it requires one more procedural vote in the House before it goes to Gov. Henry McMaster, who has promised to sign it into law.
Senate Bill 1 would criminalize abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detectable except in cases of a medical emergency, rape, incest or a fetal anomaly. Abortions already are banned in South Carolina after 20 weeks of pregnancy. A fetal heartbeat usually can be detected about six weeks after conception, before many women realize they are pregnant.
Doctors performing abortions banned under the bill could face felony charges and have their medical license revoked. Abortion providers would be required to conduct an ultrasound and listen for a fetal heartbeat before performing an abortion and to advise women of alternatives to an abortion, such as adoption or foster care. The bill requires the state to cover pre- and post-natal care for uninsured mothers legally residing in South Carolina.
At the beginning of the House debate on the bill Wednesday, most of the House’s 43 Democrats staged a walkout. Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, called House Republicans hypocrites for taking up the bill in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Democratic caucus is here to proclaim that we’re tired of it,” Rutherford said on the House floor moments before Democrats exited the room. “We’re tired of the hypocrisy. We care about life until death. We care about birth. We care about life. We care about people eating, people not dying because they can’t get vaccines, people not dying because they can’t get [a COVID-19] test.”
For proponents of the bill, passage without any amendments during Wednesday’s session was key. Without amendments, the bill would not be required to go back to the Senate for another approval. After nearly 100 amendments were proposed Wednesday and voted down, the bill passed without amendment.
Anderson Republican Rep. Jonathan Hill argued the bill was not truly “pro-life” because it as it stands, it still would allow abortions in the case of rape or incest. Hill introduced amendments to strip the bill of the rape and incest exceptions, but they were not considered.
“Members, your hands will not be clean if you pass this as is,” Hill said.
While McMaster’s signature on the bill is expected after the final vote Thursday, it’s unlikely the bill will be implemented. Lawsuits have been filed and courts have granted injunctions halting similar laws passed in other states; in some cases within hours of a governor’s signature.
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