COLUMBIA, SC — A bill banning abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy or later is heading to the House floor for debate.
The House Judiciary Committee advanced the bill Tuesday by a voice vote. About a third of the committee’s 21 members opposed the measure, some citing a federal court ruling that struck down a similar Arizona bill.
The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Wendy Nanney, R-Greenville, says the abortion restriction is necessary because science shows fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks. Opponents say science does not support that claim.
The bill also would require physicians to determine the age of the fetus before performing an abortion; report the pregnant woman’s age, race, and the method of abortion; and establish criminal penalties for doctors, making it a felony to break the law.
The bill also would allow the state attorney general to trace abortion reports back to specific patients when conducting an investigation. If a woman receives an abortion at 20 weeks or later to save her life, the physician would be required to use the method of abortion most likely to save the unborn child.
Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, abortions are permitted during the first and second trimester of pregnancy. But states are allowed to ban abortions after the 24th week – the point at which the unborn child is considered “viable,” or able to live outside the womb – if they provide an exception for the woman’s health and life.
In a news release after the vote, Melissa Reed, a Planned Parenthood Health Systems vice president, said 60 percent or more of registered voters support access to “safe and legal abortion at 20 weeks” in cases of severe abnormalities, threat to the woman’s health or if the pregnancy results from rape or incest.
Reed called the proposal a “dangerous and extreme bill” that has “no basis in medicine. “(T)he reality is that abortion later in pregnancy is very rare and often happens under heartbreaking and tragic circumstances. Politicians have no place in that conversation.”
State Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, an attorney, said that the bill is unconstitutional and debating it is a “waste of taxpayers’ money.”
During Tuesday’s committee meeting, Rutherford asked Nanney if her support for the bill would change knowing that a similar Arizona bill had been struck down by the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court subsequently refused to hear the case, letting that decision stand.
“I’m not willing to bow down to the 9th (Circuit Court of Appeals),” Nanney later said. She added the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears S.C. cases, is more conservative and likely would uphold the law, which could prompt the Supreme Court to weigh in.
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