COLUMBIA, S.C. -- A proposal that would likely ban almost all abortions in South Carolina moved closer Tuesday to final approval in a committee vote split along party lines.
The House Judiciary Committee voted 15-8 to pass the “ South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act.” The bill has already passed the Senate and the governor promises he will sign it, although the law is likely to be the subject of lengthy court battles before it could take effect.
The proposal would require doctors to use an ultrasound to try to detect a fetal heartbeat if they think pregnant women are at least eight weeks along. If they find a heartbeat, and the pregnancy is not the result of rape or incest, they can’t perform the abortion unless the mother’s life is in danger.
A fetal heartbeat can be detected as soon as six weeks after conception and before many women know they are pregnant.
About a dozen other states have passed similar bills, although they are tied up in court challenges. The main sponsor of the bill, Rep. John McCravy, R-Greenwood, said during his explanation of the bill he expects the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn its 1973 abortion rights decision because of recent conservative justices added by former President Donald Trump.
“The Constitution in our nation has devolved into whatever nine justices say it means,” McCravy said.
Numerous public hearings have been held about the bill over the past several years, but GOP lawmakers plan no more public testimony on it.
Republicans stayed mostly quiet after explaining the bill, allowing several Democrats to speak.
“This is an issue we should not be legislating,” said Rep. Beth Bernstein, D-Columbia. "It’s a decision that needs to be made between a woman, her family and her doctor.”
Democrats unsuccessfully tried to change the bill. Rep. John King, D-Rock Hill, proposed amendments that the state would “assume full financial responsibility” for a child if the mother is denied an abortion, calling it “truly pro-life.”
Another failed amendment said if the proposal became law it would only be enforced if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds similar laws in other states. Both failed on party-line votes.
A third amendment would have allowed pregnant women and the fathers of their babies to carry guns openly to protect their fetuses. That also did not pass.
Democrats made arguments that Republicans don't care enough about children after they were born. They also questioned the constitutionality of the bill and components of the proposal, like how the state would handle requiring doctors to show the ultrasound to visually impaired women.
“According to this bill, the doctor shall ask the woman if he wants to hear the heartbeat. So I guess we'll have to train our doctors in sign language,” said Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg.
Democrats said the bill would require an invasive ultrasound to be able to hear a potential heartbeat so early in a pregnancy instead of one on the outside of a woman's belly. To illustrate the point, Bamberg held up a wand used internally as he spoke, but Republicans questioned that argument.
“I can find that nowhere in the bill whatsoever," said Rep. Weston Newton, R-Bluffton. "I want to make sure we are factually considering what was offered as opinion.”
Tuesday's discussion in the committee meeting is likely a preview of the debate that will take place on the House floor later this month.
Some Democratic representatives plan amendments to try to stall passage as long as possible, Republicans will likely try to avoid any changes to the bill which could send it back to the Senate, where it had been tripped up for years prior to 2021.
The full House passed a similar bill 70-31 in 2019.
Republicans were able finally to get the proposal through the South Carolina Senate after flipping three seats from Democrats in the 2020 elections.
Democratic Rep. Cezar McKnight told lawmakers South Carolina had a lot more pressing issues including improving education, finding a way to make life better for poor children and increasing the budget of the Department of Social Services to help families.
“We’ll do everything we can when they are in the womb, but after that it is survival of the fittest,” the Democrat from Kingstree said.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.