South Carolina’s abortion laws are not as restrictive as new bans in Alabama and Georgia, but that could change if a S.C. House-passed bill becomes law next year, outlawing abortion at a point in a pregnancy before many women know they are pregnant.
That tension in South Carolina will serve as the backdrop when most of the Democrats running for president in 2020 make their pitch to voters nationally and in the Palmetto State for how they would shape reproductive rights and abortion policy if elected.
In town for the S.C. Democratic Convention and related events, 20 Democratic presidential hopefuls are expected to attend a Planned Parenthood Action Fund forum in downtown Columbia. They comprise most of the 22 candidates in town for convention events and the 24 who have announced White House bids.
The candidates will each have 15 minutes to answer questions about anything from their voting records on issues including abortion rights, to their ideas for specific policy changes, such as how they would expand access to health care and contraception.
The forum — called the first of its kind by the Planned Parenthood women’s health and reproductive rights advocacy group — will be streamed live by online progressive outlet NowThis News. Candidates are scheduled to begin speaking at 11 a.m.
A counterprotest is expected outside the forum planned by the nationally organized Students for Life of America and USC’s Advocates for Life.
“Reproductive health and rights are under assault like never before,” Leana Wen, a physician and president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, told The State on Wednesday. “This year, we have seen an unprecedented number of bills that directly restrict our fundamental rights and freedom. We know that reproductive health care ... is at risk across the country, while support (for it) is at an all-time high.”
Wen called efforts to limit access to abortion “a state of emergency that we are having all around the country.”
Each candidate has declared support for a woman’s access to abortion.
But former Vice President Joe Biden, in particular, has drawn criticism from his challengers and fellow Democrats when he declared earlier this month he’d support the federal Hyde Amendment — after telling a South Carolina voter he’d be willing to scrap it. Traditionally opposed by Democrats, the Hyde Amendment bars tax dollars from paying for abortions, except when the pregnancy results from rape or incest or threatens the life of the mother.
A few days after Biden fielded the question, he later reversed his position, somewhat, saying he would still back the Hyde Amendment if women of all income levels could access abortions, CNN reported.
SC Democrats ‘more moderate’
The abortion forum, timed to grab some of the national spotlight shining on convention activities, signals the importance the battle over abortion will play out in 2020.
That battle is playing out in South Carolina, too.
In 2016, the state passed its most restrictive abortion law on the books, banning abortion at 20-weeks of pregnancy, while providing exceptions to protect the mother’s life or in the case of severe fetal anomaly.
A new bill that passed the S.C. House in April and has the support of S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster could be taken up in the state Senate next year, though Democratic senators have pledged to fight it.
As for Saturday’s display of politics around the issue, the Planned Parenthood forum could offer moderate Democratic candidates, particularly Biden, a safe space to clarify his position, despite the forum being live streamed to a national audience, said Gibbs Knotts, a political scientist with the College of Charleston.
“Democratic voters in South Carolina are going to be more moderate than Democrats in other places,” Knotts said. The forum, he said, offers an opportunity for candidates to give more nuanced answers. For instance, he said, African-American voters, particularly those who are older and make up the core voting bloc of the Democratic Party, tend to be more conservative on social issues, including when and under what circumstances a woman should get an abortion.
Candidates already have been testing their positions on abortion, some in South Carolina.
For example, at a May campaign stop at Wofford College, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California said she would push to require the U.S. Department of Justice to pre-clear state or locally passed abortion restrictions.
‘It’s really going to feel like an election year’
Competing with the abortion forum for the national spotlight Saturday is the S.C. Democratic Party’s convention, held nearby at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.
Throughout the state party’s usual convention business, candidates will get seven minutes each to speak directly to voters.
The entire convention will be broadcast live exclusively by MSNBC, whose hosts Joy Reid of “AM Joy” and the Rev. Al Sharpton of “PoliticsNation” will interview each of the 22 candidates individually after they give their speeches.
Reversing an earlier decision, the state’s Democratic Party has decided to allow South Carolina’s public broadcasting affiliate, S.C. ETV, to livestream the convention on its social media pages, The Greenville News reported.
“It’s really going to feel like an election year,” said S.C. Democratic Party spokesman Tim Sullivan. “It’s going to feel really exciting.”
The weekend kicks off Friday with the state party’s annual Blue Palmetto Dinner, followed by U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn’s “World Famous Fish Fry,” an opportunity for S.C. Democrats to get face-time with 22 of the 24 Democrats who have announced presidential bids.
Convention business will start at 9 a.m. Saturday, including an election between current chairman Trav Robertson and Adam White, who is seeking that seat. The selection of S.C. Democratic delegates, who will attend next year’s Democratic National Convention in Wisconsin, will happen next year during the party’s reorganization session, Robertson said.
The other major vote state Democrats will take up Saturday is a rule change that would allow county-wide officer elections in odd number years, instead of electing chairs in the middle of an election, similar to what the S.C. GOP does.
The rule change is part of an overall effort to make the state’s Democratic Party more competitive, Robertson said.
Otherwise, Robertson said this weekend is a chance for S.C. Democrats to become ambassadors of the Palmetto State.
“It’s to show what we already know: that this is one of the greatest states, the greatest state in America.”
Where to catch 2020 Dems this weekend
Follow The State’s politics team Friday and Saturday at thestate.com and scpolitics.com for live updates from events where 2020 candidates will appear.
S.C. Democratic Party Blue Palmetto Dinner: 6p.m., Friday
Jim Clyburn’s fish fry: 7:30 p.m., Friday
S.C. Democratic Convention: 9 a.m., Saturday
Planned Parenthood Action Fund Forum: 10 a.m., Saturday
As of Wednesday, candidates speaking at the Democratic Party convention and the Planned Parenthood Forum:
▪ U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado
▪ Former Vice President Joe Biden
▪ U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey
▪ Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind.
▪ Julian Castro, former head of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development in the Obama administration
▪ New York Mayor Bill de Blasio
▪ U.S. Rep. John Delaney of Maryland
▪ U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York
▪ U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California
▪ Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper
▪ Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
▪ U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota
▪ U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts
▪ Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke
▪ U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio
▪ U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont
▪ U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell of California
▪ U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts
▪ Author Marianne Williamson
▪ Entrepreneur Andrew Yang