COLUMBIA - A pregnant woman will have the right to use deadly force to protect her unborn child, if a bill making its way through the Senate becomes law.

The Pregnant Women's Protection Law passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 3-2 vote, with Senators Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, and Karl Allen, D-Greenville, dissenting. The bill aims to allow for a woman to use whatever force necessary if she fears a person is trying to cause her or her unborn child harm.

Critics of the measure, however, argued the law was redundant and unnecessary. They echoed each other's words when standing before the committee, arguing South Carolina already has one of the broadest stand your ground laws in the country and that adding the pregnant women's law was not needed.

Hutto questioned what the bill addressed that wasn't already in state law and argued a mother already has the authority to stand her ground whether she's pregnant or not.

"You're only authorizing the mother to defend the child," Hutto said. "She already has that right."

Under current law, anyone can stand their ground without the duty to retreat if the person "reasonably believes it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury to himself or another person or to prevent the commission of a violent crime."

But Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, said sometimes these crimes happen when the boyfriend is trying to harm the unborn child and not necessarily the mother. He introduced an amendment - which passed 3-2, also with Hutto and Allen dissenting - to the state's stand your ground law that would add the clause "to include a pregnant woman protecting her unborn child."

"I can envision a factual situation where an assault. really kills the unborn child, does not rise to the level of great bodily injury, but yet can be effective in killing the unborn child," Campsen said.

Sen. Greg Hembree, R-North Myrtle Beach, also argued in favor of the measure, adding the bill would close a loophole in the law that doesn't give women the right to defend an unborn child from great bodily harm. He said a woman would not be immune from prosecution just by telling police she was "trying to protect my baby."

The wording of the bill also defines an unborn child as the offspring of human beings from conception until birth, a phrase the bill's critics strongly oppose. Women's health advocates say the bill could be legally problematic and outlaw abortion, even though that's not the main thrust of the bill.

Two other bills that seek to ban abortion were also under discussion but were not voted on before the committee adjourned because Senators had to report for session. The two so-called "personhood" bills define life as beginning at fertilization. That premise has been struck down by federal courts, but anti-abortion advocates say a new challenge is necessary.

Cynthia Roldan can be reached at 708-5891.