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In a 6 to 3 decision on June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, reversing the court's 50-year-old decision that guaranteed a woman's right to obtain an abortion. The court's action also set off trigger laws that banned or severely restricted abortions in some states and prompted protests across the country.

South Carolina Senate fight over abortion ban stretches into second day

Sen. Margie Bright Matthews speaks before a South Carolina Senate debate on abortion legislation on Sept. 7, 2022.
South Carolina Senate
Sen. Margie Bright Matthews speaks before a South Carolina Senate debate on abortion legislation on Sept. 7, 2022.

A bill that would outlaw nearly all abortions in South Carolina is headed for a second day of deliberation in the state Senate on Thursday, after senators sparred over the measure for more than eight hours Wednesday.

The bill, which originated in the state’s House of Representatives, as of Wednesday evening contained exceptions for abortions necessary to preserve the life of the mother and exceptions for fatal fetal anomalies.

Before the Senate debate Wednesday, four of the five women in the South Carolina Senate sharply criticized the abortion bill and many of their male colleagues. Republican Sen. Sandy Senn said she was “sickened” by the discussion in the Senate’s Medical Affairs Committee Tuesday.

“What I heard was … ‘You little ladies in South Carolina need to listen to us. We can take care of everything for y’all, little ladies,’” Senn said.

Sen. Margie Bright Matthews, a Democrat, urged lawmakers to put the abortion question to voters, as Kansas did with its referendum vote in August.

“Let the people of South Carolina decide whether abortion remains legal in this state. The issue is too important to be decided by a few men in this Statehouse,” Bright Matthews said.

The measure as of Wednesday evening included no exceptions for victims of rape and incest who become pregnant. A state Senate panel Tuesday voted to remove those exceptions and attempts Wednesday to add them back failed. The rape and incest exceptions were added Aug. 30, just before lawmakers in the House passed the measure.

Republican Sen. Tom Davis on Wednesday proposed an exception, which the Senate adopted, for fetuses that are judged to be “incompatible with sustaining life after birth.”

“I don’t think that (it’s) reasonable to require a woman to carry to term and deliver a baby that the physician is saying is going to be stillborn,” Davis said.

Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, said putting the issue of abortion to a vote in South Carolina wasn’t necessary.

“We’ve had so much discussion … legal decisions, over the years,” McMaster said during a Wednesday news conference.

He said he thinks state legislators are “capable of doing the right thing” but that they “need to pass a law that will be acceptable and viewed as reasonable to the great consensus of the people in the state.”

McMaster demurred when asked whether he would sign an abortion bill with no exceptions for cases of rape and incest.

“I thought the four exceptions or exemptions in the heartbeat law were good and responsible,” McMaster, a Republican, said.

South Carolina’s “fetal heartbeat law” was passed in 2021 and took effect shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The law banned abortions after roughly six weeks but was temporarily blocked by the state’s Supreme Court on Aug. 17. The “heartbeat” law included exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape and incest up to 20 weeks.

Proponents of South Carolina’s proposed near-total abortion ban have said it will not impact access to contraception or in vitro fertilization. On Tuesday, the Senate Medical Affairs Committee adopted an amendment designed to make clear the measure does not affect the sale or use of Plan B emergency contraception, also known as the “morning after pill,” and intrauterine devices, or IUDs, used for long-term contraception.

The South Carolina Senate is scheduled to convene again at 10 a.m. Thursday.

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.