SC Senate bill would extend right to lethal self-defense to pregnant women

04/10/2014 8:55 PM

04/10/2014 8:56 PM

A Senate panel advanced a bill Thursday that would expand the state’s stand-your-ground self-defense law to specify that mothers can use deadly force to protect their unborn children from harm.

Critics of the bill, including state Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said that, under current law, mothers and everyone else already have the right to use deadly force against “imminent peril of death or great bodily injury.”

But some attacks on pregnant women – being punched in the abdomen, for example – might not rise to the level of severity that would justify a stand-your-ground defense but still could cause a mother-to-be to miscarry, said Republican state Sens. Chip Campsen of Charleston and Greg Hembree of Horry.

The proposal would protect pregnant women from criminal prosecution in the event that they had to use lethal force to defend themselves, Campsen said.

Lawmakers voted 3-2 to advance the bill, sponsored by state Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington.

The self-defense proposal defines an embryo as an “unborn child” from the moment of “conception until birth.”

The panel also heard testimony on two proposals that would define embryos at fertilization as people, giving them the same rights as humans. But the panel ran out of time to vote on the those proposals, sponsored by state Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg.

Several anti-abortion activists urged the panel to advance the “personhood” bills Thursday.

Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling legalizing abortion, Johnny Gardner, who frequently greets visitors to the State House while holding graphic anti-abortion signs, told the panel: “Nowhere in the Constitution is there a right to abortion.”

Caleb Milligan, 15, said his generation is growing “more pro-life with every year. ... We are tired of being told that abortion is about women’s rights. ... What about the rights of the unborn?”

Critics mostly focused on how all three bills, including the self-defense proposal, define life as beginning at conception – an effort to lay the legal groundwork for banning abortion, opponents said.

Giving embryos constitutional rights also would end fertilization programs for would-be parents, outlaw contraception and open up mothers and their doctors to criminal charges, opponents say. It also would ban abortion in cases of rape, incest or when the mother could die.

Similar bills have been struck down by voters and courts in Alaska, Colorado, Mississippi and Oklahoma, said Emma Davidson, representing the S.C. Healthy Families Coalition.

Marcia Zug, a University of South Carolina law professor, said it is unlikely Shealy’s bill, which defines an embryo as an “unborn child” at the moment of conception, would provide a strong legal basis for banning abortion because it deals with self-defense, not abortion.

“I don’t really think that’s how you’re going to get (abortion banned) ... but that’s certainly the purpose,” Zug said.

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