Republican members of Aiken County's S.C. House delegation divided over abortion bill

·6 min read

Aug. 29—The divide over more abortion restrictions in South Carolina has come to Aiken County's legislative delegation.

The South Carolina House of Representatives returns at 1 p.m. Tuesday to consider a bill that would, if passed in its current form, ban abortion except in cases where the life of the mother is in danger.

S.C. Rep. Bill Hixon, R-North Augusta, said Monday morning that he spoke with four women — two were nurses and two were housewives — after a church service about the potential for more abortion restrictions.

He said he told the women that he was fine with the state's heartbeat bill and that if he didn't change his mind, he would be for exceptions for rape, incest and endangerment of the life of the mother.

On Feb. 18, 2021, the S.C. House of Representatives passed and S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster signed a bill into law that banned abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which usually occurs during the fifth or sixth week of a pregnancy.

"These fine, Christian ladies grabbed me and hugged me," Hixon said. "They said, 'thank you for listening to us.' Everyone of them were my constituents. What's a man supposed to do? He's supposed to listen to the people who put him in office."

S.C. Rep. Melissa Oremus, R-Graniteville, was on the House ad hoc committee that drafted the language currently in the bill. She said Monday afternoon that she supported the bill in its current form because she is 100% pro-life.

During an ad hoc committee hearing in mid-July, Oremus shared her story of being 16 and pregnant, getting pressured to get an abortion, and ultimately deciding to keep the child.

"I can tell you that my beautiful, 26-year-old daughter is happy to be here," Oremus continued. "She's happy to be alive. She's happy to live through the hard times that we had. It made her a better person, a strong woman."

She also said at the hearing she wanted to see a father's clause added to the language in the proposed bill that would allow a father wanting a child to have the mother carry the child to term, give birth and then give the child to the father.

She said last time she checked, it took two people to create a child; and that the father should have options, too.

S.C. Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, said in a newsletter from late July that he wanted to wait for a year or two to learn the effects of the state's fetal heartbeat bill before enacting more restrictions.

"Let us see the impact of the Heartbeat law over the next year or two," Taylor said. "Let's examine what happens in other states, some with total abortion bans and others allowing abortions at or beyond full-term."

Since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson, 11 states have enacted abortion bans, 14 states have enforced restrictions, enacted bans that haven't gone into effect or attempted to enact trigger bans, and 10 states have expanded access to the procedure.

Taylor said there is a lot to learn about the impact of an abortion ban on the state's social services, including if the state's foster care system can handle more children and if churches or other social services organizations can help with the expected increase in more children.

"In my view, this week's debate is premature," Taylor said in a column in Tuesday's edition of Aiken Standard. "We would better serve citizens by determining our Heartbeat law's full ramifications and the potential problems it creates (when it's reinstated). That will take time. We also need to examine what happens in other states that have enacted laws restricting abortions. There is much to learn."

Taylor also said Republicans might learn a lesson from Kansas where voters took advantage of a ballot referendum that conservative activists pushed to open the way to a total abortion ban.

"Kansas voters rejected that proposition by a surprisingly large margin," Taylor said.

All three acknowledged that there is a possibility the bill could change during the debate that's expected this week.

"Regardless of my reservations, the legislative process is moving forward," Taylor said. "There is one certainty — the final version of any new pro-life legislation will differ from the recommendations passed by the House panel last week. I will gladly work with sensible Representatives to protect the unborn while respecting mothers and their babies."

Taylor wrote his comments one week after the House ad hoc committee created to receive public comments and propose legislation if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade voted to propose a bill that only included an exception for the health or life of the mother.

Hixon said that it would be hard to pass the bill without exceptions for rape, incest or endangerment of the mother.

He referenced comments made by two other House Republicans regarding further abortion restrictions.

A video of S.C. Rep. Neal Collins, R-Pickens, discussing the effects of the state's fetal heartbeat bill went viral.

And S.C. Rep. Micah Caskey, R-Lexington, said he resented some of the pressure to enact further abortion restrictions after the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson.

"I have talked to many of my Republican friends who are aggravated that we are coming back because we were happy with what we passed with the heartbeat bill," Hixon said. "It could be a divide between the Republicans, which we don't need. We need to stand strong together."

Hixon said he had heard that the South Carolina Senate wouldn't pass a bill that did not include exceptions for rape, incest and endangerment of the life of the mother.

In the Senate, it takes a vote of 26 senators to end debate on third and final reading of a bill pursuant to Rule 15 of the Senate. There are currently 30 Republican senators and 16 Democrats, so it would only take four Republicans to get cold feet for Democrats to be able to filibuster the bill.

Hixon added that he truly believed if the bills between the two chambers weren't the same and neither chamber wanted to change its bill, the bill would die when it got to a conference committee.

"I think both sides would be stern in what they want; and if they can't come to an agreement, it dies," Hixon said.

Oremus said she didn't know if every Republican would feel the same way she does until the debate begins.

"I think we're pretty divided on the issue," Oremus said. "Some want more exceptions for rape and incest, so we'll see how it pans out."