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South Carolina House passes bill restricting most abortions

South Carolina passed heartbeat abortion bill
South Carolina House passes ban on abortions once fetal cardiac activity is detected 01:52

The South Carolina House on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a bill banning nearly all abortions, following the lead of other states with similar measures that would go into effect if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade.

The bill faces a final procedural vote in the House on Thursday that is unlikely to change the outcome and will then be sent to the governor for his signature. Republican Governor Henry McMaster has promised to sign the measure as soon as possible.

The Senate approved the measure on January 28, after years of failed attempts. Republicans gained three seats in the 2020 elections and the newly energized 30-16 Republican majority made the proposal Senate Bill No. 1.

"This is the greatest pro-life bill this state has ever passed," said Republican Representative David Hiott of Pickens.

The " South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act " requires doctors to perform ultrasounds to check for a heartbeat in the fetus. If one is detected, the abortion can only be performed if the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest or the mother's life is in danger.

The bill would not punish a pregnant woman for getting an illegal abortion, but the person who performed the abortion could be charged with a felony, sentenced up to two years and fined $10,000 if found guilty.

About a dozen other states have passed similar or more restrictive abortion bans, which could take effect if the U.S. Supreme Court — with three justices appointed by Republican former President Trump — were to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 court decision supporting abortion rights.

Groups that oppose the bill will likely sue, keeping the law from going into effect. All of the bans passed by other states are tied up in court challenges.

While Wednesday's House approval was nearly a foregone conclusion, the road there was rocky. One Republican lawmaker who wanted a stricter law saying fetuses have the rights of all citizens at conception threw up his papers and stormed out in a ruckus that angered the speaker. Most Democrats walked out of the chamber to protest the bill. They had to come back when a member of the party who left and returned made the rare request to have the clerk read the whole bill out loud before the vote, prompting Republicans to require that all lawmakers be present.

During the walkout, Republicans wiped out more than 100 proposed amendments. After holding a news conference to speak against the bill, several Democrats returned to express their opposition to the measure, which has come up for debate in the legislature numerous times over the past decade. Lawmakers approved the bill by a vote of 79-35. Two Democrats voted for the ban, and two Republicans voted against it.

"You love the fetus in the womb. But when it is born, it's a different reaction," said Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter of Orangeburg, the House's longest serving member at 29 years. Cobb-Hunter noted how the General Assembly made the abortion bill a priority over education, several COVID-19 bills and almost everything else, and how some supporters of the ban balked at any requirement earlier this year that they wear masks while on the House floor and in committee meetings.

"'The government not having any business mandating face masks' sounds to me real close to 'the government not having any business telling a woman what to do with her body,'" Cobb-Hunter said. 

Abortion South Carolina
A group that opposes a bill that would ban almost all abortions in South Carolina put up a sign outside the Statehouse on February 2, 2021, in Columbia. Jeffrey Collins/AP

Numerous Republican lawmakers spoke in favor of the bill and many cheered after the vote. Supporters of the ban stood outside the House chambers applauding and hugging the lawmakers that pushed the hardest for the measure.

Representative Melissa Lackey Oremus said she was 16 and in the top of her class when she had "a little fun one night — too much" and got pregnant.

The Republican from Aiken and now 42-year-old mother of three said she was unsure what to do until she had an ultrasound wand rubbed over her belly and heard her child's heartbeat.

"That sound to me was, I had a human being inside of me," Oremus said. "That sound, it was the most beautiful sound to me. How could I have a choice to kill that sound, to make it go away?"

The debate was briefly stopped by a Republican when Representative Jonathon Hill, apparently angry his amendments to completely ban all abortions weren't being considered, stormed to the House's center aisle, threw his amendments up in the air and walked out.

Another representative picked up the papers.

"If it had been me, it would have stayed on the floor and I would have not allowed him back in the chamber until he picked it up," House Speaker Jay Lucas said. "We are a legislative body. We have debate. We are not children. We don't throw tantrums when we lose."

Hill wasn't immediately punished for his behavior.

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