State Sen. Richard Cash did not support the proposed abortion ban that dominated discussion at the Senate this week. The Anderson Republican voted "present" on an amendment that would have prohibited 97 percent of the abortions performed in South Carolina, and he opposed the ban on so-called "dismemberment" abortions.
But he's far from being a supporter of abortion rights. Cash's opposition to those proposals is that they don't go far enough.
"I stated I would vote for cloture" to bring the abortion ban up for a vote, Cash said in the midst of a dayslong Senate filibuster that ultimately doomed the measure. "I would have voted for cloture if it was the dismemberment bill. But unless it was based on pro-life principles, I wasn't going to vote for it."
Instead of voting to stop one kind of abortion or another, Cash supports a much more sweeping approach that would establish legal rights to the unborn at the moment of conception. His "Personhood" proposal would not allow abortion exceptions for cases of rape or incest..
"From the moment life begins, it should be protected, as an inalienable right under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments," Cash said.
Cash managed to push the Personhood bill through a Senate committee and onto the floor, despite some division among abortion opponents — including Republican lawmakers and pro-life groups — over whether that was the best way to advance their cause.
"He was the driving force behind keeping this on the agenda of the Republican caucus," said Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, a supporter of access to abortion who sparred with Cash on the Senate floor over the issue. "He talks about it on a daily basis, at every opportunity."
Arrested for life
"This is not new for me," Cash said. In 1978, when he was 18, Cash took part in his first protest outside a Washington, D.C.-area abortion clinic. Later, as a seminary student in Massachusetts, he was arrested a number of times at sit-ins to block access to clinics.
He estimates he spent about eight years working full time with the pro-life movement, taking part in "rescue" efforts across the Carolinas from his Anderson County home. Other than his time in seminary, he has lived in the Upstate of South Carolina since he moved from Florida to attend Furman University.
He advocated for a partial-birth abortion ban and supported a Personhood Act in the S.C. Legislature as early as 1998.
He ran for Congress in the 3rd District in 2010, then challenged U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in the 2014 Republican primary, both times with abortion and other social issues at the front of his campaign.
"I've never been a single-issue candidate," he said, "but I do believe in a moral absolute of right and wrong, and the shedding of innocent blood is a moral evil we need to turn away from."
In 2015, he founded the group Personhood S.C. to get a referendum question on the ballot to establish personhood for the unborn in South Carolina.
"More than just words, he's tried to be involved in loving his neighbors in the womb for decades," said Matt Clark, who served on Personhood S.C.'s board with Cash. "His history of action speaks for itself."
'Missionary of the unborn'
Clark has heard Cash referred to as a "missionary of the unborn" for his years of activism, "helping women make a difficult decision there on the front lines — and being willing to be seen as a criminal. He talked during his run for the Senate about being arrested."
In 2017, he finally attained public office: He won a special election for a Senate seat when Kevin Bryant resigned to become lieutenant governor.
"For years, this was the cornerstone of his platform, and the folks up there knew this was his issue," said Hutto, who despite his disagreements with him said he admires Cash's "commitment and zeal."
"He's stated this is his highest legislative priority, and he's demonstrated that through his actions," Clark said.
Cash also has earned respect from others who disagree with him.
"He's absolutely sincere," Hutto said. "He's the nicest guy you could ever meet."
"It's hard to be passionate about something and also be a good listener, and I've heard it said on both sides of the aisle that he's a good listener," Clark said. "He's an especially effective advocate because he can bring that warmth to the conversation."
Cash said he was "disappointed" that senators couldn't overcome a filibuster early Friday to approve an abortion measure, "mainly because each and every day abortion clinics kill 16 human beings, and we've not done anything in the South Carolina Senate to effectively address the killing of unborn babies."
But this week's vote has not deterred him. When the Legislature returns next January, Cash says he will "absolutely" be bringing more pro-life proposals to the Senate.