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S.C. Senate Advances 20-Week Abortion Ban

May 21, 2015 — The South Carolina Senate on Tuesday voted 37-7 to advance a bill (H 3114) that would ban abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy after adding exemptions for cases of rape, incest and severe fetal anomalies to the measure, the Charleston Post and Courier reports.

Background

Current state law bans abortion at 24 weeks, with an exception for endangerment to a woman's life.

The 20-week legislation is based on the unfounded claim that a fetus can feel pain at that point of development. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said there is no legitimate scientific evidence showing that fetuses are capable of feeling pain at 20 weeks.

Further, the bill would require physicians to determine the length of gestation prior to performing abortions, except in cases of endangerment to a woman's life. Physicians convicted of violating the law could face fines of up to $10,000 and potential jail time of up to three years (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/18).

Vote Details

On Tuesday, state Senate lawmakers successfully voted to stop debate on the bill, ending a filibuster threat from state Sen. Lee Bright (R), and proceed with a vote (Charleston Post and Courier, 5/20). According to the Columbia State's "The Buzz," Bright last week began a filibuster of the legislation, citing his opposition to the bill's exceptions (Shain, "The Buzz," Columbia State, 5/19).

The bill requires a third and final vote in the state Senate, after which it will return to the state House (Roldan, Charleston Post and Courier, 5/20). According to the "The Buzz," the state House passed a version of the bill that did not include the exceptions added by the state Senate. The differences likely will "se[t] up a fight in conference committee," "The Buzz" reports.

Reaction

Bright said it is now up to abortion-rights opponents to remove the exemptions in a final bill ("The Buzz," Columbia State, 5/19).

Meanwhile, Victoria Middleton, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina, said, "The measure [would do] nothing to improve health outcomes for families and could have a chilling effect on doctors seeking to give their patients the best medical care possible."

Separately, state Sen. Marlon Kimpson (D) before the vote said the measure could be unconstitutional and likely would face a court challenge (Charleston Post and Courier, 5/20).