COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — As some conservatives in South Carolina celebrated getting a bill that would ban almost all abortions in the state past a legislative barrier and likely becoming law, they said they are not finished trying to end all abortions.
The ultimate goal of a number of groups that oppose abortion is what is called a “personhood law,” which would dictate that life begins at conception. That would give a fetus the rights of any citizen and require “ due process of law” to end its life under the U.S. Constitution. While other states have passed similar or even more restrictive abortion laws, none have gone that far.
The South Carolina Senate on Thursday voted 30-13 in favor of a bill that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is usually around six weeks after conception and before many women know they are pregnant. The proposal had failed to get out the chamber for several years.
The bill goes to the House, which has passed similar proposals in previous sessions. South Carolina's governor has repeatedly said he will sign it.
“I’ll tell you this from my heart. There isn’t anything left but defending life at conception after that," said state Sen. Richard Cash, a Republican from Anderson County who has made abortion his chief issue in the Senate.
The “ South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act ” that passed the Senate this week isn't the only abortion related bill at the General Assembly.
At least eight others have also been filed. There are House and Senate bills to declare life begins at conception and other proposals including requiring doctors to tell women who are given pills to cause an abortion that it can be reversed after one dose and to ban a rarely used procedure called dismemberment abortions.
Rep. John McCravy, who often takes the lead on abortion restrictions in the House, wants abortion banned in South Carolina too. But the Greenwood Republican expects the House to not change the bill the Senate passed this week to make it more restrictive. Any change would have to be approved again by the Senate.
McCravy isn't sure the House will look at any other abortion legislation this year. But with a two-year session, he said there is plenty of time.
“Maybe before the session is out. But right now we are concentrating on the heartbeat bill," McCravy said.
The Senate debate this week showed while Republicans have made critical gains in the Senate — the three seats picked up from Democrats in November proved crucial to this bill — there may not be enough support to go further.
One of the 30 Republicans, Sen. Sandy Senn of Charleston, voted against the bill. A second Republican said he could not vote for the bill until exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape and incest were added. Those exceptions were added quietly and there were no votes this week to determine if any other Republicans could support a more restrictive bill.
Democrats vowed to continue to fight the restrictions. Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto said they would also point out the money wasted on court fights over the issue while abortion opponents ignore a different way to get what they want.
“If they wanted to be genuine about they believe, they should introduce a constitutional amendment to ban abortions,” the Democrat from Orangeburg said. “They don't have the votes for that. They don't have the stomach for that.”
Planned Parenthood and other abortion rights groups also promised to keep fighting this bill and any other restrictions, saying these decisions are between women and their doctors and it is shameful South Carolina does not spend this kind of effort improving education, expanding health care or fighting COVID-19, which help many more people.
Opponents of declaring life legally begins at conception said that declaration could also put on shaky legal ground some birth control like intrauterine devices where a fertilized egg is prevented from implanting in a uterus and in-vitro fertilizations where an egg and sperm are combined a number of times in a laboratory outside the womb in hopes one can grow to term.
In the lobby of the Statehouse this week, abortion opponents did not want to talk about specifically about future plans until the current bill gets through the Legislature.
South Carolina Citizens For Life Executive Director Holly Gatling handed out one of her favorite charts. It shows the state performed more than 14,000 abortions in 1988 when her group started lobbying. The chart steadily goes down as more abortion restrictions are passed. About 5,100 abortions were performed in 2019.
“We want to save every one,” Gatling said just outside the Senate chamber.
After Thursday's vote, Sen. Larry Grooms went on Facebook Live with Gatling and thanked God for sending more Republicans to the South Carolina Senate. The Republican from Bonneau has been in the Senate since 1997 and while his goal is to end abortion too, he did not want to miss what happened.
“I'm at a happy place right now. Today is the culmination of 24 years worth of work," Grooms told reporters. “Let's let this bill take effect.”
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.