COLUMBIA - Supporters of a measure that would ban and criminalize abortions at 20 weeks in South Carolina are planning a late-session effort to push the bill through the often slow-moving Senate.
The anti-abortion group South Carolina Citizens for Life has planned a press conference for Tuesday morning at the Statehouse, and a subcommittee hearing on the issue is scheduled for Wednesday. Holly Gatling, the executive director of SCCL, said in an email that she plans to release a SCCL poll that shows "overwhelming support among registered voters for our fetal pain law."
The bill faces hurdles, especially because state senators believe that it goes beyond the 20-week ban itself.
The ban is controversial in its own right. Opponents say it is unconstitutional and could complicate a doctor's medical decision as he or she weighs whether the late-term abortion could be considered a criminal act.
Supporters of the bill say the 20-week mark is important because it's the age when a fetus can feel pain, though this notion is disputed in the medical community. Such late-term abortions are rare and represent less than 1 percent of all abortions in South Carolina, advocates say. South Carolina's abortion clinics do not perform them, and a Greenville doctor recently testified that he sends those seeking such late-term abortions to clinics in Georgia and North Carolina.
Sens. Ray Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet, and Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, have raised other concerns about the bill, H. 4223. The bill appears to also ban birth control and does not provide exceptions for rape and incest, the senators said. It does provide an exception for doctors who must perform the abortion to save the mother's life.
Hutto asked Rep. Wendy Nanney, R-Greenville, the author of the measure, to rewrite the bill to ensure that its only impact would be to ban 20-week abortions.
Nanney said in an interview last week that she would not. "The ways it's written is good," she said. Nanney said Hutto was trying to delay and that he was wrong to think the bill bans birth control.
"He was just dragging his feet and trying to drag it out," Nanney said. "None of his arguments were valid." Hutto disagreed. He said the bill would ban the use of contraceptives. The bill reads, in part: "Abortion means the use or prescription of any instrument, medicine, drug, or any other substance or device." That language is problematic and could ban contraceptives, Hutto said.
"She's putting her head in the sand," Hutto said of Nanney. "The people of South Carolina are not going to sit by and watch a radical House of Representatives pass a bill that would ban contraceptives in South Carolina."
Cleary is the chairman of the medical affairs subcommittee where the bill is going to be heard, and its swing vote. He said he would keep an open mind on the bill, though he has reservations.
"Making things illegal doesn't take away the problem, it just makes it illegal," he said. "You can't legislate morality."
Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.