The S.C. Senate voted Wednesday night to outlaw virtually all abortions in South Carolina.
The Legislature’s upper chamber voted 28-10 to allow exceptions only in cases of rape, incest or medical emergencies that could seriously harm the pregnant woman or threaten her life. The bill still faces long odds to passage, up against a Democratic filibuster that could put off a final Senate vote until after lawmakers adjourn for the year.
If passed, the new law almost certainly would spark a court challenge. But that is the goal, according to Senate Republicans who want to overturn the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision affirming abortion rights.
"It's designed to give the court an opportunity to revisit Roe v. Wade," said Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield.
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The proposal likely would ban some 97 percent of the roughly 5,700 abortions performed in South Carolina each year, according to the Democrat who suggested Republicans adopt it.
"It's clearly unconstitutional from my point of view," said state Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg.
Just before 10 p.m. Wednesday, Hutto proposed the expanded abortion ban as an amendment to a House bill outlawing "dismemberment" abortion, a rare procedure used to terminate 22 pregnancies in 2016.
Hutto said his aim was to give Senate Republicans a chance to vote on the bill they really want so the S.C. Legislature doesn't continue to be bogged down year after year with debates on more nuanced abortion restrictions.
Settling the abortion issue would mean S.C. lawmakers can get to other important topics, including South Carolina's $9 billion nuclear fiasco, Hutto said.
“It’s an attempt to get it to the courts so we don’t have to keep debating it over and over and over,” said Hutto, an attorney who said he is confident the courts would strike down the abortion ban in a court challenge.
Debate on the "dismemberment" ban had lasted two days in the Senate, and Democrats were planning to filibuster another several days — potentially until the end of the legislative session next week.
Shortly after Hutto proposed his amendment, it was adopted 24-1. State Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, cast the lone vote opposing the amendment as most Democrats sat on the sidelines.
The Senate voted for the overall bill 28-10 about an hour later. It still needs one more vote to pass the Senate, and Republicans expect Democrats to filibuster the amended proposal.
If the bill passes the Senate, it will head back to the GOP-controlled House for approval of the proposal, as amended by the Senate.
If approved there, it would go to Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, who has pledged to sign into law any pro-life bills the General Assembly sends him.
The Senate proposal completely replaces the previous House bill under debate, which would have made illegal so-called dismemberment abortions, rare procedures in which a doctor uses forceps to pull apart a fetus and remove it piece by piece.
Those procedures — used to terminate late-term pregnancies that threaten the life of the mother or abort a non-viable fetus — accounted for 22 of the 5,736 abortions in South Carolina in 2016, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
On the Senate floor, Hutto told Senate Republicans to drop the "dismemberment" debate and vote for the law they really wanted.
“If you want to vote on it, this is your vote," Hutto said. "If you want to dance on this one, you can see it on the commercials when you get home for your next election.”