The Senate Medical Affairs Committee Thursday approved a bill banning abortions after a woman is 20 weeks pregnant, with exceptions for rape, incest, the life of the mother and severe fetal anomalies.
The measure, which already has passed the House in different form, now goes to the Senate floor.
A minority report placed on it by two senators voting against the bill means it will take a two-thirds vote to bring up the legislation on the Senate floor.
And some senators said the exceptions “gut” the bill as passed by the House in February and they will attempt to remove them on the floor.
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Similar legislation has passed in more than a dozen states.
The votes Thursday came after about an hour of sometimes tense debate in which tempers flared and the bill was stripped back to the House version, negating the work of a subcommittee.
“Look at us. We’re a bunch of men voting on what a woman would have to do with her own life,” Sen. Joel Lourie, a Columbia Democrat and an opponent of the bill, told the panel. “We’re a bunch of men sitting up here trying to tell a woman whether it’s right or not to terminate a pregnancy at 20 versus 24 weeks. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves that we’re going to impose our own value system and interfere with the relationship between a woman, her physician, her spiritual adviser and her family.”
But Sen. Danny Verdin, a Laurens Republican, argued in favor of the original House bill, authored by Rep. Wendy Nanney, a Greenville Republican who also serves as chairman of the county’s legislative delegation.
He said the bill is about the pain suffered by fetuses during abortion after 20 weeks and the “physical attack” of abortion.
“I am so convinced that for a 20-week plus child, whether it be through saline poisoning or whether it be through violent dismemberment, what takes place inside that womb is what drives me to believe the state of South Carolina has a compelling interest in that child inside that womb.”
Sen. Brad Hutto, an Orangeburg Democrat and an opponent of the bill, said there are about 30 abortions a year in the state in which the mother is at least 20 weeks pregnant.
He said in most of the cases, parents go through “heart-wrenching” decisions after being told there is something wrong with the fetus that likely will not allow it to survive outside the womb.
“We are not talking about the vast majority of abortions in this state,” he said. “One of the ironies of this bill is it is aimed at pain, and yet the end result may be that these 20 or 30 people we’re talking about are going to be born in severe pain for six hours and then die.”
Verdin moved to table the subcommittee’s version of the bill, but the motion failed 8-7.
Sen. Lee Bright, a Spartanburg County Republican, then asked for another vote, chastising those who consider themselves pro-life and describing abortion as “legalized genocide.” He said the subcommittee’s work “guts” the House bill.
Sen. Ray Cleary, a Georgetown Republican and chairman of the subcommittee, objected to Bright’s words, saying the subcommittee’s version does not gut the House bill.
“Don’t lecture me that I don’t value life,” he added.
This time the vote to table the subcommittee’s version passed after Sen. Harvey Peeler, a Gaffney Republican and chairman of the panel, changed his vote.
Hutto then argued to include exceptions for rape and incest in the bill, the same exceptions granted for mothers less than 20 weeks pregnant.
Some argued against the exceptions, saying a mother has had 20 weeks to consider the matter and there were no safeguards in the bill to prevent a mother from lying about how she became pregnant.
Lourie argued for the exceptions, saying he was “willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the mother.”
The panel voted 8-7 to include the exceptions.
Cleary then proposed an exception for fetal anomalies, which he defined as an anomaly that is “incompatible with independent and sustained life after birth.”
He said parents often do not know of the anomaly until testing picks it up after 20 weeks.
“In a fetal anomaly situation, they don’t have 20 weeks. They’ve got about three or four days,” he said. “Because they are finding out this child they want is basically going to die when it’s born. Do we want that mother to carry that child?”
Verdin said senators should consider the situations of children who may be born with a quality of life less than their own but still produce joy. He said 95 percent of anomalies are likely to be miscarried.
The committee voted 8-7 to include the fetal anomaly exception. And then voted 9-6 to send the bill to the Senate floor.