Politics & Government

Georgia, Alabama pass abortion laws. Will SC follow? Hundreds rally to oppose bans

Fourteen years ago, 52-year-old Irmo resident Kim Baker suffered two stillbirths in rapid succession.

Each baby died in the womb. Baker was blindsided by the news when she went in for an ultrasound at her 20-week appointment.

But if South Carolina lawmakers join other states, pushing for increasingly strict bans on abortion until the procedure is outlawed, Baker fears she and other women who miscarry could be interrogated or even prosecuted, she told a crowd of about 200 who rallied at the S.C. State House on Tuesday to protest strict bans on abortion.

“The thought of anybody having to go through that is horrifying,” she said.

The rally was part of a nationwide protests to push back against a flurry of restrictive abortion bans that have passed in several states and could become law in others, including South Carolina.

The proposal that has gained the most steam would ban abortion when a fetal heartbeat has been detected.

On Saturday, Republican S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster pledged to sign the fetal heartbeat abortion ban if it hits his desk.

“I want the Senate to pass it. This is a pro life state. It’s a good bill,” McMaster told reporters Tuesday. “Other states have passed similar bills. It’s important. Precious innocent life. This is a pro life state, we ought to pass the bill.”

The governor also has supported the more sweeping “Personhood Act,” which would establish that the unborn have legal rights at the moment of conception, banning almost all abortions.

The S.C. House last month passed a ban on abortions where a fetal heartbeat can be detected by ultrasound, usually around five or six weeks, when many women do not yet know they are pregnant. The bill, which the S.C. Senate could take up next year, would effectively ban most abortions in the state, opponents say.

The bill provides exceptions when the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life or physical health, or in cases of rape or incest.

Supporters of the bill say the presence of a heartbeat indicates life and means that an abortion amounts to murder.

“I don’t believe that we have a right to do with our own bodies what we want to, if we’re hurting somebody else,” the bill’s sponsor and state Rep. John McCravy, R-Greenwood, told The State. “I view abortion as hurting a person, killing a person. ... It’s cardiac activity. Whether or not the heart is fully developed at that time, to me, is irrelevant.”

Opponents say the bill restricts a woman’s ability to make decisions about her body with her doctor, and inserts politics into personal and agonizing decisions faced by women and their families whose pregnancies, for some, could lead to serious medical complications.

That concern was echoed Tuesday at the rally.

“Stop the assault on women and women’s bodies,” state Rep. Beth Bernstein, D-Richland, to the crowd. “To criminalize doctors for doing things they are trained to do to protect women is a travesty. ... The only way that we’re going to be able to make change is if we make change in 2020, from the bottom up.”

Bernstein’s comments prompted a man in the crowd to shout “Grab ‘em by the ballot box!”

Bernstein was joined by state Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg, who led the floor fight against the fetal heartbeat bill in the S.C. House.

GOP-controlled state legislatures in eight states have passed new restrictions on abortion, including a “near-total abortion ban” in Alabama. 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.

Abortion rights groups, however, say they’re determined to push back against the sweeping effort to make abortion inaccessible in this country, and will make it a campaign issue in 2020.

“What it is is ignorance on full display,” Vicki Ringer, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said of lawmakers’ “unprecedented attack on our fundamental rights and freedoms” to safe, legal abortion.

‘Not a host body’

Columbia resident and Planned Parenthood supporter, Kathy Finger, 53, who spoke at a March State House abortion rally, told The State she was diagnosed with breast cancer 14 years ago while 12 weeks pregnant.

The doctors could not fully determine the stage of her cancer, because she could not get the scans that were needed because of her pregnant state.

Her options were daunting. She could abort the fetus and pursue aggressive therapy, which her doctor advised; continue with the pregnancy, forgoing treatment until after delivery with hopes she would live long enough to deliver a health baby; or continue the pregnancy and undergo a modified treatment plan, hoping the treatment would not harm her or the fetus.

“These were incredible choices to have to make ... and further complicated by the fact that I was already a mother to a dear (3-year-old) son, who hung the moon,” Finger said. “To say my husband and I were distraught doesn’t begin to let you know our agony.”

Finger chose to undergo partial treatment under a modified schedule while continuing the pregnancy. Her doctor feared legal repercussions should the chemotherapy cause the fetus harm, she said.

At 28 weeks, Finger went into pre-term labor and delivered her daughter weighing only 2 pounds and 15 ounces.

Had she chosen an abortion, Finger worries proposed abortion bans in South Carolina would have prevented her from heeding her doctor’s advice and pursuing aggressive treatment — placing hear fetus’ health over her own.

“I’m a person with a uterus, but I’m a person first. I am not a host body,” she said. “The value of my being is not secondary to any fetus that I may be carrying. The proposed bills seek to deny South Carolina females destiny over their bodies — to enslave them to a biological function.

“These proposed forced-birth laws, however, do not end abortions. They only harass women and endanger their health.”

Staff writer Sammy Fretwell contributed to this report.
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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.