An outspoken abortion opponent blocked an effort Thursday to ban abortions in South Carolina at 20 weeks of pregnancy and later – killing what supporters said was the bill’s best shot at passing this year.
State Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, filibustered the abortion restriction Thursday, saying exceptions in the proposal for rape or incest victims unjustly would sentence a fetus to death for the father’s crimes.
Bright also acknowledged he is in no hurry for the Senate to get to another bill, stuck behind the abortion proposal on the Senate’s calendar, that he opposes. That proposal would raise the state’s gas tax to pay for road repairs. “That baby is not going to have to worry about a bad road.”
The exceptions for rape and incest were part of a compromise meant to ease opposition to the abortion bill, averting a filibuster from opponents, and allowing senators to move past the issue and onto other priorities.
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But with Bright digging in his heels, state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, said senators likely will give up on the abortion restriction, opting instead to vote to move past the issue, leaving it for next year’s to-do list.
“The very senator who likes to proclaim himself the most pro-life senator in this body” will ensure no abortion restriction passes this year and may block a proposal to fix roads, too, Grooms said Thursday, after Bright moved to adjourn the Senate and senators agreed.
The compromise on the abortion restriction, brokered by Grooms and state Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, includes exceptions when the pregnancy results from rape or incest, threatens the mother’s life or health, or the fetus has a severe fetal anomaly preventing life after birth.
Without those exceptions, the bill faced 400 amendments, designed to doom the proposal, senators said. Debating those amendments could have eaten up the remaining time in the legislative session that ends June 4.
“I’m not comfortable with the exceptions. But if we can’t save them all, let’s save what we can,” Grooms told fellow senators, urging hard-line abortion opponents in the GOP to accept the compromise.
Democrat Hutto also encouraged lawmakers to agree to the compromise. “For the good of South Carolina, sometimes it’s time to move on.”
The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Wendy Nanney, R-Greenville, passed the House earlier this year with exceptions for the life and physical health of the mother but not for rape, incest or fetal anomalies.
Representatives of Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union opposed the restriction but pushed senators to include those exceptions. Most abortions at 20 weeks or later usually start out as wanted pregnancies that go wrong, they said.
Hutto said the exceptions likely would preserve access to abortion for many of the women who now seek the procedure at 20 weeks or later.
Last year, approximately 36 S.C. women had abortions after 20 weeks, according to preliminary data from the state. An average of 28 women a year had the procedure over the last 25 years.
The bill, if it becomes law, would move South Carolina closer to joining 11 states that limit abortion at 20 weeks, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health advocacy group. Abortion now is legal in South Carolina through the second trimester, or 24 weeks, because of a federal court ruling.
Bright said anti-abortion groups who endorsed the compromise had “conceded” in the fight to end abortion, a claim that left those groups disappointed Thursday, after the Senate failed to vote on the restriction.
“(Bright) does not seem to understand the strategy that will save babies’ lives,” said Holly Gatling, Citizens for Life’s executive director. “We do not agree with these exceptions, but this isn’t the end game. Sometimes, you have to concede a battle to win a war.”
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Abortion in S.C.
Who has an abortion in S.C. at 20 weeks of pregnancy or later? A look:
703: Total number of women who had abortions at 20 weeks or later from 1990 to 2014
28: Average abortions per year at 20 weeks or later
479: 68% of the women were white
198: 28% were black
458: 65% of the women were at least 25 years old
392: 56% were married
SOURCE: S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control