Politics & Government

SC governor pledges to sign strict ‘fetal heartbeat’ abortion ban

As sweeping abortion bans advance across the South and Midwest, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster pledged to his party’s faithful Saturday that South Carolina will follow suit.

“This is a pro-life state. When that heartbeat bill gets to my desk, I will sign it,” McMaster said to loud applause from some 1,200 Republicans gathered at River Bluff High School in Lexington for the S.C. GOP annual state convention.

South Carolina’s anti-abortion movement scored a victory last month with passage in the S.C. House of a bill that would effectively ban most abortions in the state, following years of efforts — some successful — to restrict women’s access to abortions in South Carolina. The bill is now in the S.C. Senate, where it could be debated next year.

The S.C. bill would make it illegal for an abortion to be performed once a fetal heartbeat is detected — usually within five to six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant and before the fetus can survive outside the womb. The bill requires a doctor to test for a heartbeat by ultrasound before performing an abortion and allow the mother to see the ultrasound and hear the heartbeat.

If the bill becomes law, a doctor who performs an abortion on a fetus with a heartbeat would face a felony charge, punishable by a $10,000 fine or up to two years in prison, or both.

Supporters of the bill say the presence of a heartbeat indicates life and means that an abortion amounts to murder. Opponents, including Planned Parenthood, say the bill restricts a woman’s ability to make decisions about her body with her doctor. They also say many women who are poor and have limited means to travel would have few options other than to try to terminate their own pregnancies.

The Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network launched a campaign against the abortion bill earlier this month, erecting billboards in four locations around Columbia. WREN CEO Ann Warner said the group seeks to raise awareness around “dangerous legislative attacks on reproductive freedom, and to demand S.C. women be treated with equality, respect, and dignity.”

McMaster’s comments come as a “near-total abortion ban” was signed into law this week in Alabama as part of a movement in some parts of the country to create restrictive new laws on abortion. McMaster’s pledge also comes on the heels of Missouri’s GOP-controlled legislature passing legislation that would ban abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy.

Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia also have approved bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Some of those laws already have been blocked or challenged in court, and similar restrictions in North Dakota and Iowa were struck down by judges.

But anti-abortion advocates see an opportunity to spark a court challenge that overturns Roe v. Wade. The 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision affirmed a woman’s right to an abortion before a fetus is viable outside the womb, usually about 24 weeks into a pregnancy.

Supporters of restricting abortion access in South Carolina welcome a constitutional challenge to the fetal heartbeat bill, should it become law, a risk they say is in their favor given the addition of conservative justices now sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Graham rebuffs critics

U.S. Senate Judiciary chairman Lindsey Graham, a Seneca Republican, also was warmly received by convention goers. He received a standing ovation and applause from S.C. GOP delegates after they watched a video of Graham erupt during a confirmation hearing of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh as an “unethical scam.”

“The Republican party is the party of the unborn, without apology,” Graham told the crowd after pledging to put “as many (conservative) judges on the bench as we possibly can.”

“It is the party of conservative judges that understand the difference between their job and my job.”

Graham also addressed having recently come under fire after he advised president Donald Trump’s son to use his rights to avoid answering questions from Congress, prompting #LindseyGrahamResign to trend on Twitter.

To which Graham on Saturday replied: “I’m going to answer the request for me to resign. Uh, go to hell.”

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Tom Barton covers South Carolina politics for The State. He has spent more than a decade covering local governments and politicians in Iowa and South Carolina, and has won awards from the S.C. Press Association and Iowa Newspaper Association for public service and feature writing.