Gov. Nikki Haley held a ceremonial signing ceremony for a recently-passed law that would ban abortions at 20 weeks, which bill sponsor Rep. Wendy Nanney said was just the first step in the effort to chip away and eventually overturn abortion rights in South Carolina.
"We are at 20 weeks and we're going to keep pushing," Nanney said at the ceremony held at Hidden Treasure Christian School, a religious school for children with intellectual and physical disabilities.
The law bans all abortions at 20 weeks or later and makes no exceptions for rape or incest. The only case in which an abortion can occur past 19 weeks in South Carolina is when the fetus will die or the health of the mother is threatened. Doctors who violate this law could be jailed.
The law, called the S.C. Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, is based on the claim that fetuses can feel pain as early as 20 weeks. That claim is a "complicated and controversial topic in science" that has yet to be definitively proven or disproven, according to FactCheck.org, a non-partisan research group run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.
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Critics of the law have said that many abortions that take place after 19 weeks concern serious health risks for mothers and unborn children. The ban does not allow abortions in the case of non-lethal fetal abnormalities.
"A 20-week abortion ban would impact only a few South Carolina women, often women whose wanted pregnancies were wanted, but face serious complications," Planned Parenthood South Atlantic said in a statement. On average, fewer than 30 abortions past 20 weeks occur in South Carolina each year, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
The South Carolina Democratic Party opposed the bill, but some Democrats voted for it, including Rep. Laurie Slade Funderburk and Sen. Vincent Sheheen, both Kershaw County Democrats. The party took particular issue with the bill's authors not consulting gynecologists' and obstetricians' groups.
"Given that this legislation will only impact women with serious medical complications, it is appalling that medical professionals were completely shut out of the process. One doctor at MUSC said he is 'terrified' for his patients," said Chairman Jamie Harrison in a statement. "If Republicans were truly interested in reducing abortion, they would join Democrats in supporting comprehensive sex education and access to effective contraception. Instead, they politicize the issue and put women's health at grave risk."
Haley said her opposition against abortion is not political, but personal. Her husband was adopted at birth and Haley had two difficult pregnancies. Haley's niece got pregnant shortly after graduating high school and decided to carry the pregnancy to term.
"I am not pro-life because the Republican party tells me to be," Haley said, with Nanney and Sen. Larry Martin standing behind her. "I’m pro-life because all of us have had experiences of what it means to have one of these special little ones in our life, to lose one, to know what it takes and how hard it is to get one."
Nanney and Martin are both facing challengers in next week's primary election. Haley credited the pair for moving the bill through the house and senate. Asked whether Haley would formally endorse the incumbents, a spokesman referred a reporter to another spokeswoman, who did not immediately respond. Haley did not hold a press availability after the ceremony.
Haley urged the packed room to be sensitive to those who are considering or choosing to have an abortion, but to share stories from their own lives of the alternatives to ending a pregnancy.
"We go with the responsibility to not judge those who are contemplating abortion or choosing abortion, but we see it as our responsibility to tell them those stories. Because the reason people contemplate abortion is out of fear," Haley said. "They’re scared they won’t know how to take care of the baby. They’re scared they’ll be judged for the baby. They’re scared that it will ruin their future if they have a baby. But our job is to be supportive. Our job is to show that we don’t judge, we support."
The choice of Hidden Treasure Christian School was symbolic, Nanney said, because some of its students had fetal abnormalities in utero that caused their disabilities.
Beth Crockett, of Greenville, said she was happy that Haley had signed the law. She brought her two daughters, Paris and Tessa, to see the signing. The young girls brought Haley a bouquet of flowers and a card.
Savannah Duke, a 15-year-old Dorman High School student, attended the signing ceremony. Duke had previously testified in favor of the bill. When her mother was pregnant, doctors advised her parents to consider abortion because she would be born with serious health risks and without one leg. Duke's parents chose to carry her to term. She was born with one leg, but is still a member of Dorman's swim team. Haley gave one of the signing pens to Duke.
Anti-abortion advocates plan on continuing the push to limit access to the procedure in South Carolina, with the ultimate goal of overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that affirmed the legal right to abortion access in the U.S.
"We're not finished," said Alexia Newman, director of the Carolina Pregnancy Center. "It's our goal to pass every law until Roe is overturned."