COLUMBIA—After a long session of debate and compromise, a bill that could lead to a ban on nearly all abortions in South Carolina is headed for the state Senate when legislators return to session in January.
The proposed legislation, H.3020, is nicknamed the Heartbeat Bill because it would make it illegal for an abortion to be performed after a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually occurring between the fifth and eighth weeks of pregnancy.
If passed, the bill would drastically reduce the number of abortions performed in South Carolina. According to 2017 data from the Department of Health and Environmental Control, two-thirds of abortions in the state were performed after six weeks.
The bill passed the state House of Representatives in late April and then went before the Senate’s medical affairs subcommittee.
There, its fate became uncertain after some members voted in late October to add an amendment that stripped away the bill’s exceptions for rape and incest, a move that likely would have doomed the legislation.
On Nov. 5, nine members of the Senate’s Medical Affairs Committee restored the exceptions and sent the bill to the full Senate, where it still faces stiff debate.
Along with the rape and incest exceptions, H.3020 also contains exceptions for medical emergencies, risk to the mother’s life, or risk of impairment of the physical bodily function of the mother.
Sen. Tom Davis of Beaufort helped restore the exceptions. He said the move was necessary in order to give the legislation a fighting chance at passing.
“I did not want this bill to die in committee and not even be on the political radar screen for next year,” Davis said. “It was important to keep the bill moving forward because we need to keep this issue alive.”
He said H.3020 still faces an uphill battle in the Senate.
Similar legislation has passed in more than a dozen states, including Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, and Mississippi. All of the bills have been blocked by the courts, however.
The Heartbeat Bill is just the latest step in a long effort to end abortion in South Carolina, said Holly Gatling, president of South Carolina Citizens For Life, the state’s oldest pro-life organization.
“We’re very pleased that the senators have given priority to this bill that protects unborn babies from the time their heartbeat can be detected,” she said. “What we need now is for people concerned about the pro-life issue to get to know their state senators, to call them and encourage them to support this bill.”
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