COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Nearly three months after the Supreme Court opened the door for a new abortion law, the South Carolina Senate sent a bill revising the state's previous six-week ban back to the House, where legislators passed a much more restrictive proposal.
It comes after the Senate rejected a total abortion ban that would not have made exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.
House Republican lawmakers must now decide whether an altered ban at cardiac activity — which one senator said should lift the state Supreme Court's temporary injunction — was worth their summer return. Regardless, the upper chamber's party leaders are looking ahead to January's regular session, where they have suggested the host of other issues around healthcare and children's welfare raised this summer will arise.
The Senate changed the currently blocked six-week ban by cutting the period during which pregnancies resulting from rape or incest may be aborted from 20 weeks to about 12 weeks. The new bill would also require that police receive the aborted fetus' collected DNA. It also includes exceptions for the life and health of the mother, and fatal fetal anomaly approved by two doctors.
Rep. John McCravy, who chaired the House committee tasked with drafting the ban, blasted the new proposal in a Friday statement. The Senate's “pro-life majority,” he said, should stand against the “Beaufort Bully," referring to Republican Sen. Tom Davis, who successfully filibustered a ban on almost all abortions.
“This amended version does not advance the cause of life in SC and I cannot concur with a bill that does nothing,” McCravy said. “We were not called back to pass a bill we already have—we were called to re-write the laws of our state after the Dobbs decision.”
Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey told reporters Thursday evening he hopes the House understands the Senate lacked the votes for a “more aggressive” proposal and passes the upper chamber’s bill. While the outcome was not ideal to him, he said it’s unlikely the body votes on another abortion ban this winter.
“I don’t know that there’s education in the second kick of the mule,” Massey said. “It’s pretty clear to me where the votes are. And I don’t want to try some futile effort if you don’t have the votes to do it.”
Massey said recent laws giving paid family leave to state employees and removing the need for a prescription to access birth control are “a step in the right direction.” But he added that the legislature has more work ahead to support women. Massey specifically said adoption should be less costly.
At a news conference last week, Republican Sen. Richard Cash said legislators are working on “making adoption easier, faster, more economical.” Palmetto Family Council President Dave Wilson said the Christian, conservative non-profit would work with lawmakers to “create an expressway for those adoptions.”
Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto agreed that the debate highlighted shortcomings in the state's current laws around women's and children's health. He said elected officials this January should bolster insurance coverage, expand access to contraceptives and improve “age-specific” sex education.
Amanda McDougald Scott is a policy researcher and early childhood advocate who protested against the abortion bans at the state house this week. On Wednesday, Scott warned that childcare is “crumbling” and badly needs more funding.
“Providing the money for the infrastructure for childcare in general would be a great first step,” she said. "It can’t just be grants or bandaids. It has to be real, sustained support.”
But one of the three Republican women in the upper chamber threw cold water on the likelihood that these conversations will be backed up with action.
Republican Sen. Katrina Shealy said Wednesday that her colleagues had failed to support her legislation around improving foster care, preventing sex trafficking and giving free school meals.
“You want children raising children who will most likely suffer domestic violence and live in poverty," Shealy said in a Senate floor speech. “But you don’t care because you’ve done your job. And you will forget about them once they are born.”
Associated Press writer Jeffrey Collins contributed to this report.
James Pollard is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.