A bill that would effectively ban all abortion in South Carolina may inch one step closer to becoming state law on Tuesday. And that prospect makes some doctors — particularly those who specialize in pregnancy, childbirth and infertility — very worried.
The "Personhood Act of South Carolina" would codify the belief that a "human being is a person at fertilization" and that "preborn humans" cannot "be deprived of life without due process of law nor denied the equal protection of the laws."
The bill will be discussed during a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting scheduled for Tuesday morning. If it moves out of committee, it could come to a full vote later this session.
Similar bills, popular among anti-abortion Republicans, have failed to gain traction in other conservative states. In fact, personhood measures have died in the Legislature before. But this proposal shows no immediate signs of slowing down, prompting some doctors and organizations to voice their concerns.
Dr. Amy Crockett, a maternal-fetal specialist for Greenville Health System, said she understands that the bill is intended to curb abortion. But the proposed law makes no exception for the life of the mother, she argued.
It could create "a nightmare scenario," she said, in which doctors would be forced to choose in an emergency between saving the life of a mother or "murdering" an embryo.
"This is really very extreme legislation," she said.
Crockett isn't the only doctor speaking out.
The American Society of Reproductive Medicine, a group representing fertility doctors, issued a statement expressing "strong opposition" to the bill when it was introduced last year by Sen. Richard Cash, R-Powdersville.
The group argued that the legislation "ignores scientific and medical fact, it threatens the reproductive rights of women, and thwarts the ability of those who suffer from infertility to seek treatment appropriate for their disease."
Women who struggle with fertility may freeze or store fertilized embryos at a doctor's office. Crockett explained that the personhood bill would create a situation making this arrangement too risky for doctors because the law would deem each of those fertilized embryos as a "preborn human being" with "equal protection" under the law.
"What happens if there is a lab accident?" she said. "Power failure?"
Dr. Michael Slowey of Coastal Fertility Specialists said he recently "sent letters to everyone on the Judiciary Committee to remind them that this is going to impact hundreds of thousands of people in South Carolina."
The bill, he said, would make doing business as a fertility doctor extremely difficult because it would eliminate the specialty's most effective therapy — in vitro fertilization. Slowey provided numbers showing 1,075 IVF cycles were completed in this state in 2015.
"We have cancer patients who are trying to preserve their fertility by freezing eggs or freezing embryos," Slowey said. "It takes that away."
The American Society of Reproductive Medicine anticipates that the bill would create "legal havoc."
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and Planned Parenthood South Atlantic oppose the measure, too.
"I think once legislators look at how extreme this bill really is ... they would say it goes too far," said Vicki Ringer, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic. "They haven’t delved into it enough to realize all the implications."
Abortions in South Carolina are already banned after the 20-week mark of a pregnancy. Many doctors also opposed that measure when it became state law in 2016. Republicans in Congress have discussed a similar 20-week ban this month.
Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, who signed on to sponsor the personhood bill before he resigned from the Senate last year, said he is pleased the proposal is moving forward.
Bryant is campaigning for the Republican nomination for governor and said he supports an amendment that would allow doctors to save a mother's life in an emergency.
"That is an issue that will need to be addressed further," he said, "but simply defining life at conception is a statement."
Cash, the personhood bill's primary sponsor, did not immediately return a message on Monday. Cash is affiliated with the national Personhood movement.
Holly Gatling, executive director of South Carolina Citizens for Life, an anti-abortion group, said her organization will not take an official position on the proposed personhood legislation. She is instead focused on propelling a bill that would ban doctors from performing abortions by dismembering the fetus in a mother's womb.
The personhood measure already has a powerful ally. Gov. Henry McMaster said in his State of the State speech last week that he believes "human life begins at conception."
"This right to life is the most precious of rights — and the most fragile," McMaster said in the address. "We must never let it be taken for granted."
McMaster indicated in a letter to the chairman of Personhood South Carolina last year that he "strongly" supports the bill and looks "forward to signing it into law." A McMaster spokesman confirmed Monday that the governor supports the bill.
Crockett, the Greenville doctor, acknowledged that some lawmakers who support the bill also agree that certain amendments should be added to address doctors' concerns. But she believes the proposal is too flawed to fix.
"The senators I have spoken with all anticipate that it will make it out of committee," she said. "I’m just so discouraged; it feels like such a lonely fight."