Activists on all sides of the abortion issue are watching the South Carolina Legislature as lawmakers could move closer to passing a statewide ban with limited exceptions.
Over the summer and in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, state Senate and House committees have heard testimony on bills that would outlaw abortion, with no exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.
Coming up are floor debates in both S.C. chambers, followed by votes. With the S.C. House back in session this week, it remains to be seen what exceptions, if any, will be allowed.
"When Roe was overturned, I was stunned," Barbara Dorsey of Spartanburg said at the Aug. 8 meeting of the Spartanburg Legislative Delegation. "I never thought that a woman's right to make decisions about her own body would be taken away with the stroke of a pen by five men and one woman."
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Kathryn Harvey, chairwoman of the Spartanburg Democratic Party, said any ban "that restricts a person's access to safe abortion care is dangerous – in the case of rape, incest, a mother's health or any other reason. Every single legislator that votes in favor of this ban will be held accountable."
South Carolina's fetal heartbeat law
The state's fetal heartbeat law that passed in February 2021 and signed by Gov. Henry McMaster changed the timeframe outlawing most abortions from 20 weeks of pregnancy down to six weeks. It allows exceptions for when the life or health of the mother is in danger, rape and incest.
That law took effect June 27 shortly after Roe v. Wade was overturned in June, but the state Supreme Court on Aug. 17 temporarily blocked the fetal heartbeat law as it reviews the law's constitutionality.
McMaster has said he supports a ban on abortion, but has hasn't yet said what exceptions, if any, he would accept in the latest legislation being debated.
"I think in the end, from conversations I've had with the House and the Senate and a lot of other people, I think we'll end with a good law that is acceptable to the vast majority of people in the state," the incumbent Republican governor told news outlets on Aug. 18.
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His Democratic opponent in the Nov. 8 general election, Joe Cunningham, has said he would veto any bill that outlaws abortion.
"Forcing women and girls to have their body seized by the state to give birth, suffer physical harm or become gravely ill against their will is not morality, it is not small government – it is state-sanctioned torture," Cunningham said in an Aug. 16 statement.
During a campaign event in Spartanburg Friday evening, Cunningham repeated his claim that McMaster "wants to ban all abortions with no exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother.
"He's telling the women in South Carolina that if you get pregnant, and God forbid you've got a complicated pregnancy … a pregnancy that threatens your very own life, he still doesn't care," Cunningham said. "The fact is that 90% of you agree there should be some exceptions to the abortion ban, but Henry McMaster wants a ban with no exceptions."
What bills address abortion?
Statewide abortion rights groups have also been following the Legislature and speaking out as it gets closer to passing a bill.
Ann Warner, CEO of S.C. Women's Rights Empowerment Network, said there is one House bill (H 5399) and three Senate bills that address abortion. She testified at the ad hoc committee hearings.
The House bill bans abortion except for when the pregnant woman's life is in danger. It does not provide an exception for rape or incest.
One Senate bill filed by Democrats (S 1348) preserves the right to an abortion and expands prenatal and postnatal healthcare. It also states that "abstinence education can be taught but not taught as the primary or only way to prevent pregnancy."
Republican Senate Bill 1327, co-sponsored by state Sen. Josh Kimbrell of Spartanburg, prohibits abortions, allows for an exception if a fetal anomaly exists, and clarifies that contraceptives are not prohibited.
Republican Senate Bill 1373 also outlaws abortions except for when the life of the pregnant woman is in danger. The bill also preserves contraception, forbids minors from going to another state to obtain an abortion, and allows for wrongful death civil lawsuits except in the cases of rape or incest.
Both Republican Senate bills also do not provide exceptions for rape or incest, and both strip physicians who perform illegally of their license to practice medicine in the state.
"What we want folks to know is that none of these proposed bans are acceptable," Warner said. "They are extreme and radical total bans with very few, if any, exceptions. The health, safety, economic security and freedom of South Carolinians is on the line."
Spartanburg lawmakertake a stance on abortion bans
Democrat Rosalyn Henderson-Myers of Spartanburg was on the 12-member House ad hoc committee that held public hearings on House Bill 5399 that bans abortions.
The House Judiciary Committee voted 13-7 on Aug. 16 to approve the ban and send it to the House floor for debate. All yes votes were from Republicans and all votes against the bill from Democrats.
Henderson-Myers opposes the bill, and last year also opposed the fetal heartbeat bill that was enacted.
Speaking at Cunningham's campaign even in Spartanburg Friday evening, she vowed to vote against the House abortion ban bill.
"We've got a situation in South Carolina where the far-right fringe has decided they want to decide what's good for South Carolinians," Henderson-Myers said. "They want to make sure there are no abortions performed in South Carolina, and that there are no exceptions whatsoever.
"We fully expect, though, they will probably try to put up some amendments to make the bill, as they say in the Statehouse, a little more palatable. But for me, there is no palatability. Either a woman has a right over her body, or she doesn't."
Another Spartanburg area lawmaker, Republican Rep. Josiah Magnuson of Campobello, also served on the ad hoc committee. He is a staunch abortion opponent, but he said there is still room for making changes to the House bill.
"A lot of people have fear or concern that this bill is going to prohibit women from getting healthcare in an emergency," he said. "We wanted to make clear that is not the intent.
"My concern with the bill deals with penalties. I think an immunity clause so there would never be a prosecution of an individual who kills their own child is a mistake."
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Republican state Rep. Steven Long of Boiling Springs, also a staunch abortion opponent and a cosponsor of House Bill 5399, said he would support an exception if the pregnant woman's life is in danger, and that "equal effort should be made to save the child."
"Exceptions to the law undermine the very ethical and moral basis of the law," he said. "How can someone say that life is worth protecting, and then say that some life isn't worth protecting?"
Meanwhile, Dorsey said she will continue to speak out and fight for abortion rights.
"Roe taught me that I have a voice," she said. "I have a choice. And that choice and my determination to fight is even stronger today."
Contact Bob Montgomery at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please support our coverage of Spartanburg County with a digital subscription.
This article originally appeared on Herald-Journal: SC House expected to debate abortion ban. Spartanburg activists rally