Abortion rally 1 May 2019

Protesters brandish signs on May 21 at an abortion rights rally at the South Carolina State House. The rally comes in the wake of a wave of abortion bans in legislatures across the nation.

"If you're mad as hell, let me hear you."

Those words, offered by Planned Parenthood South Atlantic SC director of public affairs Vicki Ringer Tuesday morning on the steps of the South Carolina State House, sparked a mighty roar from a protest crowd, and encapsulated the fervor of the abortion rights debate that has seized the nation in recent weeks.

Roughly 200 abortion rights activists gathered outside the State House on a blisteringly hot Tuesday morning. With many adorned in pink gear and brandishing handmade posters and signs — "We are the grandchildren of the witches you could not burn," read one — the protesters spoke out against the flood of abortion bans that have been debated and passed in state houses across the nation this year.

Perhaps the most notable of those bans came in Alabama. The Alabama law, which has been signed by Gov. Kay Ivey, is essentially an outright ban of abortion. As noted by CBS News, "the new law is the most restrictive anti-abortion measure passed in the United States since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973." Meanwhile, the legislature in Missouri passed a law that criminalizes abortion at about two months of pregnancy.

Here in South Carolina, the state House of Representatives passed a "fetal heartbeat" abortion ban in April. That bill would make it illegal to get an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, likely somewhere around six weeks into a pregnancy. While that bill did not make it into law this year, it likely will be debated again by lawmakers in 2020, which is an election year for the Republican-controlled Legislature.

At Tuesday's rally, Ringer decried the idea of a "heartbeat" abortion ban.

"Most women, including me, don't know they are pregnant at six weeks," she said. "So, let's be clear about things: A heartbeat ban is an all-out abortion ban."

Richland County Councilwoman Allison Terracio, a Democrat, was among those who attended Tuesday's protest. She says she has been alarmed at the abortion bans that have seen serious movement in state houses across the country, particularly Southeastern states.

"It's far-reaching, and we've seen the impact in multiple states," Terracio said. "Obviously, [states] are coming to the end of legislative sessions, and these are the ones that they've held out until the very end and they've pushed them through at the last minute as sessions end. We know how this goes, we've seen this happen [in the House] in the state of South Carolina.

"It's very alarming to me as a long-term advocate for women's reproductive health. The women I know who have needed abortions have been mothers, they are over 30, they are married or in committed relationships. This is not what people think. It's not last-minute, or young people doing stupid stuff. These are serious choices that take into account your life and your circumstances and the family you already have."

Nancy Desisto traveled to Columbia from Aiken for Tuesday's protest. She said she "strongly supports" women's reproductive rights, and noted that she had an abortion when she was in her 20s. She says she was married and already had a son at the time, and that her family was in no financial position to have another child then.

Desisto says she thinks that many states are testing the waters of abortion bans because the United States Supreme Court currently has a slim conservative majority, the thought being that, should lawsuits over states' bans rise to that level, a conservative court could offer a favorable ruling.

"With the majority on there, all these Southern states are going to go for it," Desisto says. "All these GOP-led legislatures are going to go for it. They see their opportunity. Sadly, with this [presidential] administration, this is the first time in my life I've ever worried about women's lives and futures going backwards."

State Rep. Justin Bamberg, an attorney and Democrat from Bamberg County, fought mightily against the House's recent fetal heartbeat bill, putting up dozens of amendments in an effort to slow down and gum up the debate in the GOP-heavy chamber.

On Tuesday, Bamberg stumped for women to continue to have a choice in their reproductive health.

"Being pro-choice does not mean that you are anti-faith," Bamberg says. "Being pro-choice does not mean you are anti-family. And being pro-choice does not mean you are some abortion-crazed person. Being pro-choice simply means that you understand that, in this country, the greatest country on the planet, that you believe that a woman has a constitutional right to choose. You believe that government has no business telling a woman what she can and cannot do with her own body."

Abortion Rally 2 May 2019

Protesters gather at the State House on May 21 for an abortion rights rally. The rally comes in the wake of a number of states considering or passing abortion bans.

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