A Senate bill that would only allow doctors with hospital privileges to perform abortions is headed to the Senate floor, but the abortion bill that stands any chance of passage is a House bill that would ban abortions for a fetus older than 19 weeks, Senate leaders say.
The full Senate Medical Affairs Committee on Thursday passed a bill that would restrict abortions to those performed by doctors certified in obstetrics and gynecology who also have hospital privileges.
The bill passed 8-6 with little debate but an opponent, Sen. Brad Hutto, an Orangeburg Democrat, immediately placed a minority report on the legislation, meaning it will take a two-thirds vote of the Senate to consider the bill for debate and place it in priority status, called special order.
“This is certainly important to a lot of people but whether it receives a special order slot by the end of the year remains to be seen, particularly since this is a Senate bill,” Hutto told The Greenville News.
Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, who also chairs the medical affairs committee, had directed that the bill be moved out of a subcommittee last week, saying it could be debated by the full committee. The bill had previously been heard by the subcommittee last year, which voted against advancing it.
Bills have to make it to the other chamber by May 1 for any chance of passage this year. Hutto said that is unlikely for the hospital privileges bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Lee Bright, a Spartanburg County Republican running for the U.S. Senate.
But Hutto and others think a House- passed bill sponsored by Rep. Wendy Nanney of Greenville that would restrict abortions to fetuses younger than 20 weeks could pass.
“If we are going to have a discussion of any bill dealing with that subject matter, I would think that is probably the bill that is going to make it,” he said.
Peeler, who voted for the hospital privileges bill, agrees.
“I think that probably is the abortion bill with the best chance of passing this year,” he said.
The hospital privileges bill, he said, faces an “uphill battle.”
That is because with about two months left in this year’s legislative session, and a host of controversial bills waiting for debate on the Senate calendar, bills just entering now hoping to get passed by May 1 have a slim chance, especially with opposition.
Sen. Mike Fair, a Greenville Republican who also voted for the hospital privileges bill, doesn’t think it will pass the Legislature this year.
Fair said Nanney’s bill “has a chance” of passing this year.
“The debate points are right on target,” he said. “There’s plenty of science behind them.”
Opponents of the hospital privileges bill argue that it could shut down the state’s three clinics because in other states where such a law has been passed, hospitals are reluctant to become involved in the abortion debate by approving doctors involved in such procedures.
In two states where the law has been passed, it is the subject of ongoing federal court appeals.
Hutto said the bill would especially be tough for rural women where hospitals may not have as many physicians with certifications in gynecology or obstetrics.
Opponents of Nanney’s bill argue that it would impact families in cases of medical tragedies, forcing women to give birth to babies who won’t live long.
Both sides agree abortions for fetuses older than 19 weeks are rare.
“While no woman should have to justify her personal medical decisions, the reality is that abortion later in pregnancy is very rare and often happens under heartbreaking and tragic circumstances,” said Melissa Reed, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood, which opposes both bills.
“Politicians have no place in that conversation.”
Hutto said he doesn’t think either bill will be heard before the Senate takes up the budget.
“Can (the hospital privileges bill) get a reading before the budget? I don’t think so,” he said. “Can the House bill get a debate before the end of the year? It’s possible. I don’t think it’s likely but it’s more possible.”