COLUMBIA, S.C. — Opponents of abortion joined with some of South Carolina's most powerful Republican politicians to mark what they think may be the end of a long fight to pass a bill that would ban almost all abortions in the state.
Less than four hours after the governor, House Speaker and Senate Majority leader gathered Wednesday with leaders of organizations fighting abortion, the Senate voted 29-17 on a bill they have sought for years.
The proposal faces a final vote, likely on Thursday. Democrats promised a tough fight both through filibuster and any legislative machinations they can find, but with just one Republican in the chamber voting against the bill, their chances to stop the bill seem dim. Sen. Sandy Senn of Charleston was the only Republican to vote against it.
The bill requires 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.
Similar laws have been passed in other states but have been held up by court challenges.
Abortion opponents have watched the bill pass the House for several years, only to stall in the Senate because Republicans could not get enough votes to overcome a procedural hurdle.
But Republicans won three more seats in November to gain a 30-16 advantage over Democrats and what appears to be enough votes to push the ? South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act ” through the chamber.
House Speaker Jay Lucas promised Wednesday if the bill passes the Senate, he would get it before the House as soon as possible.
“We will pass it like we've done in the past,” the Republican from Hartsville said.
The House approved the bill last session 70-31.
Gov. Henry McMaster again promised to sign the bill into law as soon as he can.
“We've never been this close. But we've got a long way to go. My urgent request is don't stop now,” McMaster said.
Democrats don't plan to let the bill pass without a fight. Sen. Marlon Kimpson took the floor Wednesday afternoon and said the Senate had COVID-19 vaccination distribution and dozens of other more important issues than passing a proposal which remains in limbo in court in about a dozen other states who passed similar bills.
“I'm going to take my time today and tomorrow to talk to you about what I think the business of the Senate ought to be,” the Charleston Democrat said.
Democrats for the most part have been waiting for the final vote before trying to stop the bill or giving their speeches against it.
“I hate to get into the middle of a fight between Republicans but I can't swim past debate," Kimpson said.
There was a short fight Wednesday over whether to keep the exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape and incest in the bill. The most conservative Republicans did not want them, saying the babies conceived in this way are innocent.
But Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey said he felt without those exceptions, the bill was doomed if not in the South Carolina Senate, than before the courts.
“What I want to do is save as many lives as possible. That means passing legislation, but that also means passing something there is a good chance courts will uphold,” the Republican from Edgefield said.
Current law in South Carolina bans abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.
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.
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Jeffrey Collins, The Associated Press