South Carolina Senate passes bill outlawing most abortions

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South Carolina Rep. John McCravy, left, and South Carolina Citizens for Life Executive Director Holly Gatling, right, talk after the state Senate approved a bill that would likely ban almost all abortions in the state on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. McCravy has worked to pass similar bills in the House. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins).

COLUMBIA, S.C. – The South Carolina Senate on Thursday passed a bill that would outlaw almost all abortions in the state, overcoming years of hurdles thanks to Republicans winning new seats in last year’s elections.

The 30-13 vote is likely the final hurdle for the bill. It has passed the House easily in previous years and Gov. Henry McMaster has repeatedly said he will sign it as soon as he can.

“If this gets upheld by the courts, we will have saved thousands of lives in South Carolina every year. That is a tremendous victory,” said Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, a Republican from Edgefield.

The " South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act " requires doctors to use an ultrasound to try to detect a fetal heartbeat if they think pregnant women are at least eight weeks along. If they find a heartbeat, and the pregnancy is not the result of rape or incest, they can’t perform the abortion unless the mother’s life is in danger.

Similar bills have passed in about a dozen other states but are tied up in courts. Both abortion rights advocates and opponents are waiting to see if the U.S. Supreme Court weighs in and rules any of the stricter bans are constitutional, especially since former President Donald Trump was able to name three justices.

In the Bible Belt, South Carolina led the fight for stricter rules on abortions during the 1980s and 1990s. The state’s current law bans abortions after 20 weeks and was once a conservative model.

But in recent years, states from Alabama to Ohio have passed restrictions that ban nearly all abortions because most women don’t know they are pregnant before about six weeks, when a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

The path for the bill cleared in South Carolina thanks in part to Trump. The divisive presidential race energized Republicans, who won three seats from Democrats in the 2020 elections and their new 30-16 advantage finally pushed the effort over a procedural hurdle that stopped the bill for years.