COLUMBIA -- An S.C. Senate panel's concerns over a bill that would largely ban and criminalize abortions performed past 19 weeks stalled the measure on Wednesday, as senators say that the bill may have more wide-ranging impacts than the ban itself.
A Senate Medical Affairs subcommittee did not take a vote on a bill that would ban abortion at 20 weeks, when the bill's proponents say that a fetus can feel pain. The bill provides criminal and civil penalties for doctors who perform such procedures when the health of the mother is not at stake.
Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet, the chairman of the subcommittee, said in an interview that he might be supportive of the 20-week ban but the House bill that seeks to do so is problematic. The bill's language appears to also ban contraception and does not provide exceptions at 20 weeks for rape and incest, which Cleary said would be non-starters with much of the Senate.
Cleary's committee has asked for the bill's author, Rep. Wendy K. Nanney, R-Greenville, to re-write the bill. "I think there's a lot of work that needs to be done," Cleary said.
Nanney told the committee that banning contraception wasn't the intent of the bill.
Ashley Crary, a spokeswoman for the South Carolina Coalition for Healthy Families, said that with the legislative session ending in June, opponents hope to run out the clock. "It's good it didnt get to a vote today," she said.
South Carolina's abortion clinics do not perform 20-week abortions, which make up less than 1 percent of all abortions. Bill Campbell, a Greenville OBGYN, testified that those in his field are generally opposed to the bill. He said that he consults on abortions past 14 weeks but does not perform them. He said in those cases he recommends clinics in Charlotte or Atlanta that perform those abortions.
Women's health advocates say that abortions after 20 weeks are usually medically necessary. They worry that the measure could endanger patients and babies.
Campbell said it would put doctors in a difficult position.
"A lot of times you don't do an in-depth ultrasound until 18 to 20 weeks," Campbell testified. "What happens if you find a Cyclops baby? Do you make the mother keep that pregnancy? I think ladies are smart enough to decide what they want to do when they sit down and discuss it with their doctor."
The idea of the unborn child experiencing pain -- a disputed notion among doctors -- is a powerful argument for anti-abortion lawmakers. "As a mother of five, I understand wanting to protect my children from pain," Nanney has said of her bill, H. 4223. "That's what a mother does."
The bill has already passed the S.C. House.
Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.