Effort to further restrict abortion fails in South Carolina

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — After a dozen meetings and sessions over the summer and fall, South Carolina efforts to pass a stricter abortion law failed Wednesday after senators rejected a House-backed proposal and House members didn't return for another meeting to try and work out a compromise.

A number of Republicans thought now was the time in South Carolina to ban almost all abortions and called a special session after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

But no compromise could be reached between the House, which wanted a near total abortion ban, and the Senate, which wants to tweak the current law that amounts to a ban about six weeks after conception after a doctor detects cardiac activity.

After the Supreme Court ruling, some South Carolina Republicans paused on the brink of banning abortions. Some wanted to see the effects of the strict six-week ban for a few years, while others wanted to strengthen education and social programs since more babies would be born into desperate circumstances.

They saw voters in Kansas reject the possibility of passing a total ban in August and Kentucky voters on Tuesday reject locking into the constitution the right to ban abortions. Kentucky voted 62% for Donald Trump for president in 2020, while 55% of South Carolina voters cast ballots for the Republican.

The bill failed in a small conference room after senators rejected the House-backed compromise again. House members did not come back after that 21-23 vote to negotiate with the bill's main sponsor, Republican Rep. John McCravy, saying he had a family conflict that forced him to leave Columbia two hours after the initial meeting.

By law, this year's General Assembly session ends Sunday. With the election of 124 House members earlier in the week, everything resets and all bills must start from the beginning of the legislative process in January.

After the Senate met, Republican House Speaker Murrell Smith said his chamber wouldn't push the issue any further.

“I agree the bill is dead. The House will continue to stand on its position," Smith said.

South Carolina's ban, with exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest or when the life of the patient is threatened, isn't being enforced as the state Supreme Court is considering a challenge that it violates the right to privacy in the state constitution.

Senators said their bill solved that problem for the state Supreme Court and was vital to make sure the six-week ban stayed in place.

Without it, South Carolina reverts to an older, 20-week abortion ban, although no clinics in the state perform the procedure more than 14 weeks after conception.

“Can we pass something not just to get a win? Can we pass something that will actually save some lives?" Republican Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey said. “Can we pass something that will send a message to the state Supreme Court that yes we really, really want fetal heartbeat to stay in place so we are not at 20 weeks?”

House members had a chance to accept the Senate's version when they met in October, but rejected it. The Senate's bill also cut the time that victims of rape and incest who become pregnant can seek an abortion from 20 weeks to about 12 weeks and requires that DNA from the aborted fetus be collected for police.

Supporters of the stricter ban said voters made it clear they wanted action.

“We have the authority to say you can kill the unborn human being by our vote. That's blasphemous. Presuming to ourselves the place of God,” Republican Sen. Richard Cash said.

Democrats have largely stayed quiet during the debate, letting the Republicans fight among themselves and pulling in more moderate senators. They said people who support women’s rights were going to lose no matter what happened because the state’s abortion rules are so restrictive.

Republicans gained seven House seats during Thursday's midterm election and will have 88 of the chamber's 124 seats when the next General Assembly session begins in January.

Speaker Smith said the House may send a near total ban to the Senate again. But he is also aware that the composition of the state Senate doesn't change until the 2024 elections,

“The same senators who just voted will still be in the Senate,” Smith said. “If any abortion bill is going to become law it’s going to have to get the support of the senate.”

Jeffrey Collins, The Associated Press