A Senate subcommittee reviewing several bills, including two aimed at banning abortion, voted 3-2 Thursday to expand the state's stand-your-ground self-defense law to include protections for unborn children, defined as starting at conception.
But two proposals that would give human embryos the same rights as humans did not make it to a vote before the Senate panel adjourned to attend the day's legislative session.
State law authorizes the use of deadly force to protect oneself and others against the threat of "imminent peril of death or great bodily injury."
But some attacks pregnant women may face -- being punched in the stomach, for example -- may not meet the definition of threatening the mother with death or great bodily injury. Those attacks, however, could cause the mother to miscarry, said Republican state Sens. Chip Campsen of Charleston and Greg Hembree or Horry.
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Civil rights advocates said existing law is broad enough that pregnant women could defend themselves, with lethal force if necessary, if they are attacked, making the proposal "redundant" and unnecessary.
State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, also shared concerns that the proposal would do something current law already does, and asked supporters to give an example of when an unborn child would be threatened when the mother is not.
The Senate panel took the vote during a meeting to discuss three bills: one called the "Pregnant Women's Protection Act," sponsored by state Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, and two bills that would extend constitutional rights to human embryos at the point of conception, sponsored by state Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg.
The bill the panel approved also includes a definition of "unborn child" as "the offspring of human beings from conception until birth."
Abortion-rights activists say that efforts to pass such definitions into law are back-door efforts to establish legal precedent for banning abortion.
Marcia Zug, a University of South Carolina law professor who testified at the hearing, said the Personhood bills, if adopted, would effectively ban abortion, even in the case of rape, incest or when the mother's life is in jeopardy.
Other opponents of the bills said that giving embryos constitutional rights would end fertility assistance to couples hoping to have children while outlawing contraception and opening up mothers and doctors to criminal charges.
Several anti-abortion activists, including a teenager, urged the panel to advance the bills, making religious and constitutional arguments.
But critics countered that the Personhood bills would be unconstitutional and said similar bills have been struck down in other states.