SC House passes six-week abortion ban bill after hours-long debate

After a marathon, 23-plus-hour debate, a bill that would drastically slash abortion access in South Carolina has just cleared a major hurdle.
Published: May. 17, 2023 at 10:20 PM EDT|Updated: May. 17, 2023 at 11:23 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - After a marathon, 23-plus-hour debate, a bill that would drastically slash abortion access in South Carolina has just cleared a major hurdle.

The state’s House of Representatives passed a six-week abortion ban Wednesday night, after starting their debate Tuesday afternoon, in a 82-33 vote largely along party. Two Democrats voted in favor of the bill, while one Republican voted against it.

“It’s a win today for all the babies that are yet to be born,” Rep. Melissa Oremus, R - Aiken, said.

The debate came as part of a special session called by Gov. Henry McMaster last week, the first time a South Carolina governor had successfully called the legislature back to Columbia in about two decades.

“No one, especially the 170 members of the General Assembly — who, by the way, are comprised mostly of men — should stand between a woman and her doctor,” Rep. Beth Bernstein, D - Richland, said.

With that vote, a months-long stalemate between Republicans over abortion restrictions in South Carolina may have broken.

The bill that passed the House had already been approved in the Senate earlier this year and would ban most abortions in South Carolina after fetal cardiac activity is detected, typically about six weeks — the time before opponents argue many women know they are pregnant.

It would allow limited exceptions to save the mother’s life, for sexual assault victims before 12 weeks into the pregnancy, and when the fetus has a fatal anomaly that would prevent it from surviving outside the womb.

“Murder is murder. If something’s alive and it’s growing and it stops, it’s dead now,” Oremus said.

Abortion is currently legal in South Carolina before about 20 weeks into a pregnancy, one of the least restrictive abortion laws in the southeast.

House Republicans had previously resisted taking up this six-week ban, arguing it did not go far enough.

But they changed their course of action after multiple attempts in the Senate to pass a ban from conception failed, most recently last month.

“So now, the only possible path forward to prevent our state from becoming an abortion destination state in the southeast is to pass the heartbeat bill again,” Rep. John McCravy, R - Greenwood, said, referring to South Carolina’s previous six-week ban. The state Supreme Court struck that 2021 law down in January, ruling it violated the state constitutional right to privacy.

Democrats filed nearly 1,000 amendments on the bill, which extended the debate to nearly 24 hours over the course of two days. In that time, they took just one break, an eight-hour recess Wednesday morning they said was due to computer issues that forced a system reboot just before 2 a.m.

Democrats’ amendments included proposals to allow minors more time to get an abortion with a judge’s permission, to put the question of abortion access to voters, and to help women who are denied abortions to pay for childcare.

Not one of those amendments was adopted, with hundreds of them thrown out for being dilatory, meaning they had the purpose of delaying the debate, or for being unrelated to the bill.

“They voted for women to carry their rapist’s babies, voted for women to give birth to dead babies, and voted for 10-year-old to become mothers,” Rep. Heather Bauer, D - Richland, said.

Around 100 amendments were also tossed after Speaker of the House Murrell Smith, R – Sumter, deemed them “frivolous and absurd,” including proposals to require every South Carolina resident read “The Handmaid’s Tale,” to change the state motto to “Y’all Means All,” and to ban male masturbation.

House members did make some changes to this bill from what the Senate originally passed.

It will next be up to senators to decide when they return to the State House next week if they will accept the new version of the legislation and send it to the governor, or if they will try to negotiate a compromise.

Any future abortion law that may be enacted is all but certain to face another legal challenge.