Politics & Government

‘It was the only choice.’ Panel OKs abortion ban after gut-wrenching testimony

Marc Chetta held a doll of a 20-week fetus and demonstrated, using a surgical tool, how an abortion at that stage would require dismemberment.

"If there's something so graphic and horrible that we can't stand to think about it, then maybe we shouldn't be doing it," said the family medicine doctor and Bob Jones University professor.

Dawn Bingham, a Spartanburg doctor who treats pregnant women, read testimony from patients, including a woman who learned after a scan at 21 weeks of pregnancy that her child was missing her nose and part of her brain, making her potential for life outside the womb “limited and painful.”

“I aborted my baby because it was the best choice for her,” the woman said in her written statement. “As far as I'm concerned, it was the only choice.”

After about 40 minutes of gut-wrenching testimony Thursday and a short debate, a panel of state senators OK’d a bill that would make it a crime in South Carolina to perform what doctors consider the safest method of second-trimester abortions.

The bill, which passed the S.C. House last year, would outlaw “dismemberment” abortions, effectively banning a procedure called dilation and evacuation unless patients first undergo another procedure to stop the fetus’ heart.

Physicians say a procedure to stop the fetus’ heart is medically unnecessary and exposes patients to additional risks.

In South Carolina, only 22 dilation and evacuation abortions were performed in 2016 – less than a half percent of the 5,736 abortions in the state.

The bill now goes to the full Senate Medical Affairs Committee, its last stop before hitting the Senate floor. There, the Republican majority could send the bill to Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, who has expressed support for legislation declaring life begins at conception.

The legislation is the latest attempt to restrict abortion in South Carolina, driven by Republicans with some Democratic support.

South Carolina would become the ninth state to adopt the abortion restriction and could face legal challenges.

Of the eight states that have adopted similar laws, six are tied up in litigation, said Janet Crepps, an attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights.

“Courts that have considered these measures have uniformly considered them unconstitutional,” Crepps said, adding there is no reason to think the U.S. Supreme Court would reverse the lower courts’ decisions.

But Ingrid Duran, with the National Right to Life, disagreed, saying the Supreme Court would side with abortion opponents on the “dismemberment” issue.

Three Republican state senators — Shane Martin of Spartanburg, Tom Davis of Beaufort and Katrina Shealy of Lexington — voted to advance the bill. Two Democratic state senators — Margie Bright-Matthews of Colleton and Floyd Nicholson of Greenwood — voted against it.