COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina senators rejected a ban on almost all abortions Thursday in a special session called in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
Although Republicans had a majority of votes to pass the ban, Republican Sen. Tom Davis threatened to filibuster and proponents of the ban could not get the extra votes to stop him.
Davis, the chief of staff for former Gov. Mark Sanford before being elected to the Senate in 2009, was joined by the three Republican women in the Senate, a fifth GOP colleague and all the chamber’s Democrats to oppose the proposed ban.
Davis opposes a blanket ban on abortions in South Carolina and said he would argue against the bill until the 46-member Senate mustered the 26 votes required to end the filibuster. That appeared unlikely to happen, as only after 24 senators voted for an amended bill that included exceptions for pregnancies cause by rape or incest up to 12 weeks after conception. Twenty senators were opposed and two were absent.
After a recess to work through their options, Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey conceded the abortion ban likely couldn't pass, although a vote to end debate had not been taken.
”This is a math question, you have to have the votes to pass it - and we do not,” Massey said.
Davis said he promised his daughters he would not vote to make South Carolina’s current six-week abortion ban stricter because women have rights, too.
“The moment we become pregnant we lost all control over what goes on with our bodies,” Davis said, recalling what his daughters told him. “I’m here to tell you I’m not going to let it happen.”
South Carolina's six-week ban is currently suspended as the state Supreme Court reviews whether it violates privacy rights. In the meantime, the state’s 2016 ban on abortions 20 weeks after conception is in effect.
Senators did pass a few changes to the six-week ban, including cutting the time that victims of rape and incest who become pregnant can seek an abortion from 20 weeks to about 12 weeks, requiring that DNA from the aborted fetus be collected for police and allowing a $3,000 income tax break for fetuses before they are born,
South Carolina's General Assembly was meeting in a special session to try to join more than a dozen other states with abortion bans.
Most of them came through so-called trigger laws designed to outlaw most abortions when the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the constitutional right to end a pregnancy in June. Indiana's Legislature passed a new ban last month that has not taken effect.
The South Carolina House passed the bill with rape or incest exceptions last month. There were also exceptions to allow an abortion when a mother's life is endangered by the pregnancy.
The debate started Wednesday with the three Republican women in the South Carolina Senate speaking back to back, saying they can't support the bill unless the rape or incest exceptions are restored.
Sen. Katrina Shealy said the 41 men in the Senate would be better off listening to their wives, daughters, mothers, granddaughters and looking at the faces of the girls in Sunday School classes at their churches.
“You want to believe that God is wanting you to push a bill through with no exceptions that kill mothers and ruins the lives of children — lets mothers bring home babies to bury them — then I think you’re miscommunicating with God. Or maybe you aren’t communicating with Him at all,” Shealy said before senators added a proposal allowing abortions if a fetus cannot survive outside the womb.
Massey helped broker the compromise among Republicans that briefly returned the exceptions to the bill. He pointed out state health officials recorded about 3,000 abortions in 2021 within the first six weeks of a pregnancy.
“Heartbeat is great, but this I think is better,” Massey said. ”I don’t think abortion should be used as birth control.”
Republican Sen. Sandy Senn, who didn't vote for the six-week ban in 2021, said a total ban would be an invasion of the privacy of every woman in the state.
“If what is going on in my vagina isn’t an unreasonable invasion of privacy for this legislature to get involved in, I don’t know what is,” Senn said.
Associated Press writer James Pollard contributed to this report.
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Jeffrey Collins, The Associated Press