A proposal to ban almost all abortions in the state failed in the state Senate Tuesday evening.
Senators voted 30-11 to table the proposal, which was an amendment to a bill banning dismemberment abortions.
Sen. Richard Cash, a Piedmont Republican and the chief sponsor of the so-called Personhood bill, had proposed amending the more narrowly-drawn dismemberment measure saying he wanted to get to the heart of the abortion fight.
He said 22 dismemberment abortions were performed in 2016 in South Carolina, less than 1 percent of almost 5,800 abortions overall in the state.
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"We cannot be satisfied with saving 22 when we should be attempting to save all the babies," he told the Senate.
His proposal would grant legal rights to the unborn at the time of fertilization, in effect outlawing abortion.
Cash said over the past 20 years, a number of what he described as "incremental" abortions bills have passed the Legislature. But he said in the same time period 130,000 abortions have been performed.
"The fundamental issue is an innocent human being is being killed," he said.
Had the bill been amended, it would have accomplished what Cash's bill could not because his bill had not passed the House this session and with five days left in this year's session could not have made it to a floor vote in the House in time.
The Personhood bill also was contested on the Senate calendar, making it a challenge even to pass out of the Senate.
But the dismemberment bill has been granted priority debate status and has already passed the House, making it a tempting target to amend for anti-abortion senators.
Opponents of Cash's proposal called it "broad and sweeping" and one that could impact in-vitro fertilization as well as victims of rape and incest.
Sen. Brad Hutto, an Orangeburg Democrat and a foe of bills outlawing or restricting abortions, argued to the Senate that Cash's proposal had too many unknowns, was tied up in litigation in the few places it had been proposed.
"The taxpayers of South Carolina don't need to be paying for this experiment," he said.
Cash's proposal would have allowed an exception to save the life of the mother but not for rape or incest. He said he would not amend his proposal to grant an exception for rape.
"As the saying goes, two wrongs do not make a right," Cash said about excepting rape. "Does an innocent boy or girl deserve the death penalty?"
At one point he compared an exception for rape or incest to granting an exception to slavery, saying he could not condone any slavery.
The proposal does not specifically prohibit contraceptives, which Cash said he believes includes the so-called morning-after pill, nor would it prohibit in-vitro fertilization, he said.
But Cash said he hoped the bill would prevent fertility specialists from disposing of unused eggs.
Republicans in the GOP-majority Senate had voiced concerns about the proposal and those who voted to table it included Republicans as well as Democrats.
Two states, Kansas and Missouri, have passed similar measures. Many more states have considered such proposals and rejected them. The Missouri and Kansas laws included provisions making them subject to the U.S. Constitution and rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court, according to Rewire, an online site that tracks legislation.
The Senate adjourned after voting to table Cash's amendment and will resume debate on the dismemberment bill Wednesday.
The bill would ban abortions using dismemberment, a method used typically in later-term abortions when mothers run into medical problems, opponents of the bill say.
Supporters of the bill say the method is barbaric, picking apart pieces of the fetus.
Opponents call it a "safe-method" ban and say the alternative is more dangerous for mothers.
"As I write, a handful of politicians are prepared to vote in support of a dangerous method ban bill that will prevent a woman from accessing the healthcare she needs," Eme Crawford, a spokeswoman for Women's Rights and Empowerment Network in Columbia.