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SC Democrats kill Senate GOP's abortion ban with days-long filibuster

SC mother shares her struggle deciding whether to have an abortion

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At 1 a.m. Friday, after three days of debate and facing a Democratic filibuster with no end in sight, Senate Republicans gave in.

A bill that would have outlawed virtually all abortions in South Carolina was killed Friday morning after the Senate's GOP majority failed — on a fourth try — to sit down the Democrats who were keeping it from getting a final vote.

“We just didn’t have the votes," said Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield. "It’s an important issue. We wanted to fight for it. We did fight for it. We have four or five different cloture votes, and it was obvious that we were not going to have the votes we needed to have in order to bash it.”

The bill made exceptions only for cases of rape, incest or serious medical emergencies. It would have outlawed some 97 percent of the roughly 5,700 abortions performed each year in South Carolina.

The Senate's 24-21 vote to banish the bill back to a committee — killing it for the year — was surprising after both parties dug in their heels over the proposed abortion ban. It came moments after the 46-member Senate came up one vote short of the 26 needed to end the Democrats' filibuster.

SC Senator Larry Grooms testifies against dismemberment abortions while in session April 26, 2018.

The vote also was a reversal from the Senate's 28-10 vote late Wednesday night to preliminarily approve the outright abortion ban.

"I'm glad that we were at least able to fight that down and that our minority view was heard," said state Sen. Margie Bright Matthews, a Colleton Democrat who spent several hours Thursday night filibustering the bill. "It was tough, but we'd already prepared ourselves to be here, if we needed to, until tomorrow."

Senate Republicans on Thursday took the the rare step of scheduling the Senate — which works Tuesdays through Thursdays — to remain in Columbia Friday to continue debate on the bill. Some had spoken of continuing the debate past Friday and into the weekend, if necessary.

Meanwhile, the Democrats lined up one senator after another to filibuster the bill, starting with Sen. Marlon Kimpson's eight-hour monologue Thursday.

Senate Republicans had hoped to extend the debate until several Democrats gave up and left the chamber, gifting the GOP the three-fifths majority needed to shut down the filibuster and pass the abortion.

But no Democrats left, with some canceling travel and vacation plans to remain in Columbia. All 45 eligible senators were present for the 1 a.m. vote Friday.

One of those, state Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, was set to leave Columbia Thursday for the Kentucky Derby. Malloy said his wife, Davita, and his children pressed him to stay and help coordinate the minority party's filibuster.

"It was more important to her and the women in this state that I stay," Malloy said.

State Sen. Luke Rankin of Horry, said he voted to end debate on the bill after seeing that Malloy and other senators weren't going to leave. With just three legislative days left, he noted, a prolonged filibuster would have prevented other important bills, such as those addressing South Carolina's nuclear fiasco, from passing.

"They were here en masse with no defection," Rankin said.

Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, an Anderson Republican running for governor and a staunch abortion opponent, called the vote "a defeat for the unborn."

"I was surprised. I've never, in 14 years, been here this late two nights in a row where every member was here. It's the first time."

Republicans Sens. Massey, Rankin, Chip Campsen of Charleston, Katrina Shealy of Lexington, Greg Gregory of Lancaster and Hugh Leatherman of Florence voted along with the chamber's Democrats to end the debate and kill the bill for the year.

A South Carolina senate panel heard about 40 minutes of gut-wrenching testimony as they considered a bill that ban's 'dismemberment' abortions.

Reach Wilks at 803-771-8362. Follow him on Twitter @AveryGWilks.
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