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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

On abortion, South Carolina legislators ignore women at their own risk

The debate over a bill to further restrict abortions in South Carolina has ended up splitting Republicans in the legislature along gender lines. WFAE’s Tommy Tomlinson, in his "On My Mind" commentary, says you can expect more of the same.

A fascinating thing happened in the chamber of the South Carolina Senate the other day. The Senate’s Republican women rose up against its Republican men.

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The issue was abortion. After the Supreme Court toppled Roe v. Wade, A group of Republican men in the legislature started pushing the hardest of hardcore anti-abortion laws. They wanted abortion completely banned in the state except in cases when the woman’s life is in danger. They wanted no exceptions for rape or incest.

Sen. Richard Cash, of Powdersville, has spent his whole Senate career trying to end abortion in one way or another. During the floor debate, he compared abortion to slavery, which is an especially clueless and cruel thing to say in a state where 40% of the country’s slaves came through the Charleston docks.

And so the Republican women stepped up.

Sen. Penry Gustafson, of Camden, scolded her male colleagues: “Are we simply baby machines? Are you pregnant with a dead baby? Too bad. Raped at 11 by your grandfather and got pregnant? That’s just too bad.”

Sen. Katrina Shealy, of Lexington, said the men in the Senate needed to listen to the women in their lives.

“Yes, I'm pro-life,” Shealy said. “I'm also pro-life for the mother, the life she has with her children who are already born. I care about the children who are forced into adulthood, made up by a Legislature full of men so they can feel good about it.”

And Sen. Sandy Senn, of Charleston, dared senators to put the proposed law up to a public vote.

“Y’all are scared,” she said. “Fifty-one percent of the population now are women. You don’t think that we’re going to vote on this? You don’t think that women will vote single-issue on something like this? Because they will.”

And that, I think, is the key to this debate.

I’m not sure you can ever get through to the people who believe that abortion is wrong under any circumstances. It’s what they were taught in church and they believe it in a biblical way. To some of them, removing a fertilized egg from a woman’s womb is literally murder. Stopping that murder is the only goal. The collateral damage doesn’t matter.

Here in the real world, it does matter. Try to imagine being that young rape victim, and then learning that the state cares more about that clump of cells inside you than it cares about you. I honestly don’t think a man can fully imagine it. But a woman damn sure can.

The next day, the Senate passed a compromise. It does allow an exception for rape or incest, although only in the first trimester, and the pregnant woman would be told that the county sheriff would be notified. The bill now goes to the House for further debate.

It’s still a bad bill. It’s better than it was. Gustafson even voted for it. Politics is compromise. But the larger point is that the conservative men running point to end abortions in this country aren’t just going to have to fight progressives. They’re going to have to fight conservative women who know two things: One, any decision on abortion affects women more than men. And two, a lot of men underestimate the power of women.


Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

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Tommy Tomlinson has hosted the podcast SouthBound for WFAE since 2017. He also does a commentary, On My Mind, which airs every Monday.