By JEFFREY COLLINS – Associated Press
COLUMBIA, SC (AP) — For the past three decades, South Carolina lawmakers have restricted abortion access, required ultrasounds, parental consent and 24-hour waits, and banned the procedure early in pregnancy: first at 20 weeks , then after six.
But now that the US Supreme Court has paved a way to ban abortion statewide, some are taking a step back. Politicians, mostly Republicans, are taking note of what happened in Kansas this month, where nearly 60% of voters rejected a ballot measure that would have allowed the state’s conservative legislature to ban abortion. Republican Donald Trump got 56% of the 2020 presidential election in Kansas. Trump won 55% in South Carolina.
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“The vote in Kansas confirms what most of us know,” said Senator Sandy Senn, the only Republican senator to vote against the six-week abortion ban enacted 18 months ago. “It’s the people in my party, most of them men, who shout loudest that women should have no choice from the moment of conception.”
Senn says that while she believes “all babies should be born,” she also believes that people should be able to make their own decisions about whether to continue a pregnancy during the first few months.
South Carolina lawmakers are also watching other Republican-dominated lawmakers. Indiana passed a near-total abortion ban on Friday after several days of debate, while the West Virginia House and Senate failed to immediately agree on further restrictions.
A total ban on abortion, with exceptions only when the mother’s life is in danger, just made its way through the South Carolina General Assembly. Committee hearings and plenary debates in the House and Senate must take place before any bill lands on Republican Gov. Henry McMaster’s desk.
Republican Legislative leaders approved the special session after the US Supreme Court Roe v. Wade lifted in June. But rather than rehash the arguments lawmakers had in early 2021 when they passed an abortion ban after heart activity was detected — at about six weeks — some Republicans have begun to reevaluate their positions.
“It’s like you’re playing with live ammunition right now. Your decision will have an immediate impact on many people in South Carolina,” said Republican Rep. Tom Davis, who last year voted to ban abortions for cardiac reasons after adding exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape and incest. and those who do so endanger the life of the pregnant person.
Davis said he’s now rethinking the whole issue, weighing a fetus’ rights to life against a person’s rights to control their own body.
He says he will also consider the views of people in his affluent coastal district around Hilton Head Island. And he plans measures to improve prenatal care and provide emotional and financial support during and after pregnancy.
Rep. Bill Taylor was right behind McMaster when he enacted the six-week ban. Last month he sent an email to his constituents titled “WHAT’S THE RUSH” in capital letters, saying South Carolina should not rush to enact a total ban now.
Instead, the state should step back a few years to see how its new law banning the procedure after six weeks works, Republican lawmakers said. South Carolina should also examine what is happening in states that now have a total ban and others that allow later-in-pregnancy abortions, and examine nursing programs and other social service programs to see what can be done to help them to help cope with an influx of births, he said. About 6,300 abortions were performed in South Carolina in 2021.
“So many questions, so few answers and solutions,” Taylor wrote in the email, which also included the statement, “I appreciate God’s amazing gift of life. I willingly accept the Pro-Life label.”
One reason some anti-abortion advocates are reluctant to wait for a stricter abortion ban is McMaster, who is running for re-election in November. His Democratic opponent, Joe Cunningham, has promised to veto any bill that further restricts abortion. Republicans are a few short of the two-thirds vote needed to override vetoes in the House and Senate.
Anti-abortion advocates have come a long way in getting South Carolina where it is. The legislature first made a significant recovery in the late 1980s and increased its measures even further in the decades that followed.
In 1990, they passed legislation that required the consent of either a parent or a judge before a minor could have an abortion. In 1994 they issued strict regulations for abortion clinics. And in 1997 they passed legislation banning partial birth abortions, which are rare.
In 2008, a law required mothers to sign a form telling them they could see an ultrasound before having an abortion, and in 2010 a 24-hour wait was elapsed. A ban on abortion after 20 weeks, which proponents say is the point at which a fetus can feel pain, was enacted in 2018. The fetus can survive outside the womb.
Republican Sen. Larry Grooms, who has made ending abortion one of the biggest issues of his 25 years in the Senate, said he wants a full ban because his goal is to “save every life he can” — but he won’t ask for a specific bill because “if you make it all or nothing, you may end up with nothing”.
“Every pro-life law that we’ve passed in the last 25 years has helped people understand the humanity of the child,” Grooms said.
Democrats in the Legislature say it’s too late to think, given the Supreme Court’s decision and the fact that the state has already restricted abortion so severely. They fear everything is on the table, including criminalizing women who in any way desire abortions.
“I think we’re going to end up somewhere between insane and insane,” said Todd Rutherford, minority leader in the Democratic House of Representatives. “Where that line is doesn’t make sense. And we shouldn’t be in that position at all.”
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.
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