Abortion floor debate splits South Carolina Republicans

·4 min read

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina's looming Senate debate on an abortion ban that would no longer include exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape and incest is likely to feature Republicans facing off against each other on Wednesday.

On one side is a core group that views any abortion as ending a life. On the other are conservatives who've digested developments elsewhere since Roe v. Wade was overturned and say they don't want 14-year-old rape victims to have to give birth, or force a mother to carry to term a fetus unable to live outside the womb.

Debate on the Senate floor is set to start Wednesday morning. Senators have been told the proceedings could last days, although they have recently tried to conclude such debates in marathon one-day sessions. If the legislation is approved and signed into law, South Carolina would join Indiana as states that have passed near-total abortion bans since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.

Democrats on the Senate Medical Affairs Committee helped set up the showdown by refusing to vote on proposed changes Tuesday as the more conservative Republicans removed exceptions for rape and incest from a bill that passed the House last week. And if the Senate approves the ban, it would return to the House.

Democrats are not going to help Republicans out of a box of their own making by making “an awful bill a very bad bill,” Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto said.

The same bill without the exceptions appeared to fail in the more conservative state House last week before some Republicans maneuvered through a series of votes to allow abortions for rape and incest victims up to the 12th week of pregnancy.

Democrats — and two Republicans — did weigh in against the bill in a final losing 9-8 vote in Tuesday's committee meeting that could foreshadow the closeness of any vote in the full Senate.

By then, Democrats had refused to vote on other proposals by Republican Sen. Tom Davis, who has said for weeks that the bill needs to be modified from a total ban before he can support it.

They included assuring that a doctor can perform the abortion if it is determined a fetus has a medical condition that won’t allow it to live — an issue at the center of a federal lawsuit over Idaho's abortion ban — as well as increasing access to contraceptives and including birth control as part of the state’s abstinence-based sex education.

Those ideas could be taken up on the Senate floor, along with a reconsideration of the rape and incest exceptions in a chamber where 30 Republicans outnumber 16 Democrats.

In a likely preview of the fight, Davis clashed in the committee meeting with fellow Republican Sen. Richard Cash, who has made ending all abortions his main focus during his five years in the Senate. Davis has said for weeks that if the state is going to ban nearly all abortions, it needs to make sure mothers receive adequate prenatal care and that the additional babies born get child care and education.

“If you are over the age of 13, we kind of expect you to have sex. We’re going to provide you with all the contraceptives' you are going to need," Cash said, mocking Davis' proposal to make birth control available with parental consent. “It borders on encouraging immorality.”

”You have a different view of the role of the state in society," Davis responded to Cash. “I don’t look to the state to dictate what my morals are.”

The bill would ban all abortions in South Carolina except when the mother’s life is at risk. Before they were removed, the bill also included exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape and incest, allowing abortions up to 12 weeks after conception. In those cases, the doctor would have had to tell the patient that the crime and the abortion will be reported, with her name given to the county sheriff within 24 hours of the procedure.

South Carolina currently has a ban on abortions once cardiac activity in a fetus is detectable, which is usually about six weeks. But that law has been suspended as the South Carolina Supreme Court reviews whether it violates the state’s constitutional right to privacy. That leaves South Carolina’s older 20-week abortion ban as the current benchmark.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.

Jeffrey Collins, The Associated Press