Republican filibuster could kill S. Carolina’s abortion ban

COLUMBIA, SC (AP) — The South Carolina Senate leader acknowledged Thursday that a bill banning almost all abortions in South Carolina may not pass despite significant Republican support.

The hurdle to implementing the measure, which would have included exemptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest up to 12 weeks after conception, came when Republican Senator Tom Davis launched a filibuster.

Davis opposes a blanket ban on abortion in South Carolina and said he will argue against the law until the 46-seat Senate collects the 26 votes needed to end the filibuster. That seemed unlikely after 24 senators voted in favor of an amended bill that included exceptions for pregnancies due to rape or incest up to 12 weeks after conception. Twenty senators opposed and two were absent.

After pausing to work through her options, Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey conceded that the abortion ban is unlikely to pass, despite the lack of a vote to end the debate.

“This is a math question, you have to have the votes to pass it – and we don’t,” Massey said.

Davis said he promised his daughters that he would not vote to tighten South Carolina’s current six-week abortion ban because women have rights too.

“The moment we get pregnant, we lost all control of what happens to our bodies,” Davis said, recalling what his daughters told him. “I’m here to tell you I won’t let that happen.”

Davis, a senator since 2009 and once chief of staff to former Gov. Mark Sanford, was supported by the three Republican women in the Senate, a fifth Republican senator and all the Democrats in the chamber.

South Carolina’s six-week ban is currently on hold as the state Supreme Court reviews whether it violates privacy rights. Meanwhile, the 2016 government ban on abortion applies 20 weeks after conception.

Republicans worked for two days to reinstate the exemptions in the bill. The South Carolina General Assembly is convening a special session to try to join more than a dozen other states with abortion bans.

Most of them came through so-called trigger legislation aimed at banning most abortions when the US Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy in June. The Indiana legislature issued a new ban last month that has not gone into effect.

The House of Representatives passed the law last month, with similar exceptions for rape or incest, and also required the doctor to tell the woman that the rape would be reported to the police before the abortion, and that report within 24 hours with the name and contact information to submit to the woman. There are also exceptions to allowing abortion if the mother’s life is endangered by the pregnancy.

The Senate this week added an additional exemption allowing abortions if a doctor determines a fetus cannot live outside the womb, meaning if senators pass the bill, it will return to the House.

The debate began Wednesday with the three Republican women in the South Carolina Senate speaking back-to-back and saying they cannot support the bill unless exceptions for rape or incest are restored.

Sen. Katrina Shealy said the 41 men in the Senate would be better off listening to their wives, daughters, mothers and granddaughters and looking at the faces of the girls in their churches’ Sunday School classes.

“You want to think that God wants you to pass legislation that kills mothers and ruins children’s lives without exception – letting mothers bring babies home to bury them – then I think you are miscommunicating with God. Or maybe you don’t communicate with Him at all,” Shealy said, before the senators added a proposal that would allow abortions if a fetus cannot survive outside the womb.

Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey helped negotiate the compromise between Republicans that returned the exemptions from the bill. He pointed out that in 2021, state health officials recorded about 3,000 abortions within the first six weeks of a pregnancy, while the six-week ban was overturned by a federal court when Roe v. Wade was lifted.

“Heartbeat is great, but I think this is better,” Massey said. “I don’t think abortion should be used as birth control.”

Republican Sen. Sandy Senn, who did not 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’s going on inside my vagina isn’t an unreasonable invasion of privacy that this Legislature should get involved in, I don’t know what is,” Senn said.


Associated Press writer James Pollard contributed to this report.


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