Abortion ban returns to South Carolina Senate with new proposals up for debate
Regulations added to a restrictive abortion measure have provoked key Republican ire that could prolong debate when the South Carolina Senate attempts to restore a 2021 ban struck down by the state's highest court.
The conservative state is close to joining its Southern neighbors in further curtailing abortion access. The Republican-led South Carolina Senate on Tuesday is expected to debate a bill banning most abortions after an ultrasound detects cardiac activity, generally around six weeks and before most patients know they are pregnant. The proposal cleared the state House last week following nearly 24 hours of proceedings slowed by hundreds of Democrats' amendments across two days.
Passage is not a foregone conclusion. A few Republican senators could determine whether the measure heads straight to the governor's desk or undergoes a round of negotiations with the House.
Some of the same GOP holdouts who blocked a near-total ban last month have vowed to resist the version recently amended by the House after it passed the Senate earlier this year. But it remains to be seen whether enough Republicans disagree with the changes to hinder the proposal's advancement.
House Republicans axed a section allowing minors to petition the court for an abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. They also added a requirement that biological fathers pay child support beginning at conception.
Among the opponents is Republican Sen. Penry Gustafson. While she voted for the bill back in February, she said the House made "dramatic" changes that she does not support.
"I want to restrict abortions and I'm very upset about what's happening in our state," Gustafson told The Associated Press. "But I'm a legislator first. I've got to look at the bill and see how it can be upheld, how it can be implemented."
Still, she expects most members of her party will support the measure as it stands.
Conservative leaders have repeatedly decried the current landscape. Abortion remains legal through 22 weeks in South Carolina, though other regulations largely block access after the first trimester at the state's three clinics. But the law has gone unchanged amid a Republican disagreement over how far to restrict access that has only recently moved toward resolution.
The action comes one week after Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly moved to enact a 12-week abortion ban by overriding the Democratic governor's veto — pushing Virginia closer to being the last state in the region with relatively easy access.
Lawmakers anticipate legal challenges for any ban that ultimately becomes law. The South Carolina Supreme Court overturned a similar 2021 law as a violation of the state constitution's right to privacy in a 3-2 decision this January. But many Republicans believe the latest version would stand after changes to both the proposal's language and the court's makeup.
James Pollard is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.