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SC lawmakers ban abortions at 20 weeks

S.C lawmakers Tuesday passed a bill that would ban abortion at 20 weeks or later – a proposal that has been struck down by courts in three other states as unconstitutional.

The S.C. House voted 79-29 to give final approval to the bill. After it is ratified, it will head to Gov. Nikki Haley’s desk.

The bill’s passage in the Legislature is a huge victory for abortion opponents. They pushed the 20-week ban asserting that a fetus can feel pain at that age – a point disputed in the medical community.

Haley is expected to sign the bill into law. “I can’t imagine any scenario in which I wouldn’t sign it,” the Lexington Republican said in March, adding she wanted to see the details before making a final decision.

“I am so excited. This is something that we’ve been working on for four years,” said state Rep. Wendy Nanney, R-Greenville, sponsor of the bill. “It is a nice ending to a lot of hard work.”

The bill offers no exceptions for rape or incest – omissions that opponents say will harm some of the state’s most vulnerable women.

Nanney’s bill does provide an exception for cases of severe fetal anomalies, which would prevent a child from surviving with or without medical intervention.

An abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy or later, calculated as the weeks past fertilization, also would be legal if a doctor says it is necessary to protect the mother from death or severe bodily impairment.

Nanney said she is pleased the proposal does not include exceptions for cases of rape or incest. Those exceptions were included in the S.C. Senate’s version of the bill but removed in a compromise bill.

“In the case of the mother’s life or the baby is deemed not going to live, I’m OK with (those exceptions),” she said.

Abortion-rights advocates say the bill targets a small number of women whose pregnancies are wanted but decide, later, to terminate them as a result of severe complications.

State Rep. Beth Bernstein, D-Richland, said the bill would “cause much suffering” for mothers and children born only to die shortly after.“This is not an easy decision, and we’re only making it more difficult,” Bernstein said.

In South Carolina, an average of 28 abortions a year are performed at 20 weeks or later, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

“Abortion later in pregnancy is extremely rare and often takes place in complex and difficult situations where a woman and her doctor need every medical option available,” said Alyssa Miller with Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, a pro-abortion rights group.

“In states that have passed similar abortion bans, some women and their families have been put into unimaginable situations — needing to end a pregnancy for serious medical reasons but unable to do so.”

Miller said the proposal is part of “an extreme political agenda” designed to “chip away at access to safe and legal abortion.”

States have passed a spate of bills attempting to limit access to abortion.

If Haley signs the bill into law, South Carolina will become the 17th state to pass an abortion ban at 20 weeks or earlier since 2010. South Dakota passed a similar law in March.

Those bans have been challenged in three states – Arizona, Georgia and Idaho. Each was struck down as unconstitutional by courts, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

But the U.S. Supreme Court, which has said abortion is legal through the second trimester, has not weighed in on whether the 20-week abortion bans are unconstitutional.

On Tuesday, House Democrats warned South Carolina will face a legal challenge for its abortion ban – one that taxpayers will pay for.

State Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, aimed his criticism at Republican House members, 71 of whom voted for the bill, joined by eight Democrats. “When it comes to a political agenda, then spending taxpayers’ dollars is not a problem,” Smith said.

The Associated Press contributed. Jamie Self: 803-771-8658, @jamiemself

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