South Carolina lawmakers have passed a bill that would ban abortion at 20 weeks or later – a policy that has been struck down by courts in three states.
The S.C. House voted 79-29 to give final approval to a bill Tuesday. After it is ratified, the bill will head to Gov. Nikki Haley’s desk.
The bill’s passage in the S.C. Legislature marks a huge victory for abortion opponents who pushed the 20-week ban on grounds that they believe a fetus can feel pain at that age – a point that is disputed in the medical community.
Haley is expected to sign the bill into law.
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"I can't imagine any scenario in which I wouldn't sign it," the Lexington Republican said in March, adding that she wanted to see the details before making a final decision.
“I am so excited. This is something that we've been working on for four years,” said state Rep. Wendy Nanney, R-Greenville, and the sponsor of the bill. “It is a nice ending to a lot of hard work.”
The bill offers no exceptions for rape or incest – omissions that opponents say will further harm some of the state’s most vulnerable women.
But Nanney’s bill does provide an exception for severe fetal anomalies that would prevent a child from surviving with or without medical intervention.
An abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy, calculated as the weeks past fertilization, also would be allowed if a doctor says it is necessary to protect the mother from death or severe bodily impairment.
Nanney said she’s happy that no exceptions were included for rape or incest, included in the S.C. Senate’s version of the bill but removed in a compromise bill.
“In the case of the mother's life or the baby is deemed not going to live, I'm OK with (those exceptions),” she said.
Abortion-rights advocates say the bill targets a small number of women who start out with wanted pregnancies but decide to terminate them as a result of severe complications.
State Rep. Beth Bernstein, D-Richland, said the bill would “cause much suffering” for mothers and children that are born only to die shortly after.
“This is not an easy decision, and we're only making it more difficult,” Bernstein said.
In South Carolina, an average of 28 abortions a year are performed at 20 weeks or later, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
“Abortion later in pregnancy is extremely rare and often takes place in complex and difficult situations where a woman and her doctor need every medical option available,” said Alyssa Miller with Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.
“In states that have passed similar abortion bans, some women and their families have been put into unimaginable situations — needing to end a pregnancy for serious medical reasons, but unable to do so.”
Miller said similar abortion bans are part of “an extreme political agenda” designed to “chip away at access to safe and legal abortion.”
States have seen a spate of bills attempting to limit access to abortion.
If Haley allows the bill to become law, South Carolina will become the 17th state to pass similarly restrictive 20-week abortion bans since 2010. South Dakota passed a similar law in March.
Those laws have been challenged in three states – Arizona, Georgia and Idaho – and each was struck down as unconstitutional by courts, according to the National Women’s Law Center.
But the U.S. Supreme Court, which has said that abortion is legal through the second trimester, has not weighed in on whether the 20-week abortion bans are unconstitutional.
On Tuesday, House Democrats warned that South Carolina will face a similar legal challenge for its abortion ban – one that taxpayers will pay for.
State Reps. James Smith, D-Richland, aimed his criticism at Republicans who overwhelmingly supported the bill.
“When it comes to a political agenda, then spending taxpayers’ dollars is not a problem,” Smith said.
The Associated Press contributed.