COLUMBIA - The S.C. House passed a bill Wednesday that bans abortion after 19 weeks, a measure that critics say would open up the state to legal challenges that could cost South Carolina millions and interfere with a doctor's decision to make a medically appropriate decision.

The bill, H. 4223, known as a "fetal pain" measure, passed on a largely party line vote, 84-29. Republicans said the state is showing its respect for human life, especially because they said fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks, a disputed notion in the medical community.

Abortion-rights advocates blasted the decision, and Democrats said that conservatives who preach that government should stay out of people's lives were hypocritical and looking for an election-year issue. The entire House of Representatives is up for re-election this year.

Rep. Wendy Nanney, R-Greenville, the bill's primary sponsor, said in an interview that politics had nothing to do with it. "I've always been pro-life," she said. As for critics, she said, "I would rather err on the side of protecting that baby from pain."

Democrats said that conservatives' concern for life didn't extend beyond the womb, as they vote down measures to increase funding for poverty programs and education. "The role of government is not to be in the bedrooms of family in this state," said Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg. "Why are y'all spending time on issues that appeal to a vocal minority?"

The Legislature is considering a host of anti-abortion bills this year. Lawmakers say that as the House bill makes it way to the S.C. Senate, it may have the best chance of passing of any of those measures.

Some in the anti-abortion movement also don't consider the measure much of a victory. No South Carolina abortion clinics perform 20-week abortions. "For many of us in the pro-life movement, we're scratching our heads," Kevin Baird, a Charleston pastor, has said. "This addresses what - maybe zero to some anomaly? Then we feel like we have a victory?"

Such late-term abortions are rare and account for less than 1 percent of all abortions, women's health advocates say. They fear that, if the bill is passed, doctors may decide not to abort pregnancies even if it is the appropriate medical decision.

"While no woman should have to justify her personal medical decisions, the reality is that abortion later in pregnancy is very rare and often happens under heartbreaking and tragic circumstances," said Melissa Reed, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood. "Politicians have no place in that conversation."

If a woman is on the verge of organ failure or death, the bill provides an exception in those case, House members said.

Nine other states have passed 20-week bans and several legal challenges are making their way through the courts.

Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.