COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A bill banning abortion past 19 weeks in South Carolina could be heading to Gov. Nikki Haley’s desk by week’s end.
The Senate approved legislation 36-9 Tuesday that allows exceptions only if the mother’s life is in jeopardy or a doctor determines the fetus can’t survive outside the womb. The measure’s limited definition of “fetal anomaly” means it would be illegal to abort a fetus with a severe disability if the child could live.
There are no exceptions for rape or incest.
“It’s a victory for life,” said Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, who’s sponsored similar legislation since 2010. “The life of an unborn child is sacred. If government has any purpose it should be to protect life.”
Senate Democrats have blocked the legislation for years.
Sen. Brad Hutto, a leading opponent, said he still believes it should be the woman’s choice.
But he said the compromise he’s worked on since last year is “the best we can get.” As it passed the House, the bill gave an exception only for the mother’s life.
The thinking is that a woman who’s a victim of rape or incest would decide whether to abort before the fifth month of pregnancy. The legislation would set that as a deadline. Allowing an exception for fetal anomalies allows the woman to make an informed choice, said Hutto, D-Orangeburg.
Such anomalies are generally detected around 20 weeks.
On average, fewer than 30 abortions yearly are performed at 20 weeks gestation or beyond, according to data since 1990 from the state’s public health agency.
The ban would only affect hospitals as the three abortion clinics in South Carolina do not provide abortions beyond 14 weeks.
Supporters believe the ban is needed because a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks. Opponents cite conflicting research. They argue such abortions involve wanted pregnancies that go horribly wrong, and that’s not for politicians to decide.
Doctors who violate the proposed law could face up to $10,000 in fines and three years in prison.
Melissa Reed, a regional Planned Parenthood director, said the “extreme” legislation restricts “a woman’s ability to make personal and private medical decisions with her doctor.”
She called it “part of a broader agenda to chip away at safe and legal abortion in South Carolina.”
South Carolina would follow at least 12 states to pass laws banning abortions around the 20th week, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Holly Gatling, director of South Carolina Citizens for Life, countered that a prenatal diagnosis of a severe abnormality can be wrong. Regardless, she said, “it’s never the baby’s fault that the baby’s sick.”
A final vote in the House would send it to the governor’s desk. That could come Wednesday, the same day South Carolina’s Catholic Diocese treats legislators to breakfast and the state Baptist Convention hosts a legislative luncheon.
A Haley spokeswoman did not immediately respond to questions on whether the governor would sign the measure.