COLUMBIA — The overnight defeat of a bill outlawing nearly all abortions in South Carolina dealt a blow to Republicans who rule the Legislature, but the issue will be back. Efforts to limit abortion aren't even over for the session that ends next week.
The Senate voted 24-21 early Friday to send a bill that allowed abortions only in cases of rape, incest or saving the mother's life back through the committee process, ending Democrats' filibuster and essentially ending that proposal's chances this year.
Repeated efforts on Thursday to sit Democrats down and force a vote on the proposal itself failed, as abortion foes couldn't muster the required supermajority vote. They hoped several Democrats would leave, but none did, and there seemed no end to their willingness to talk the bill to death.
Republicans "knew we had the firepower to go all night and into the next day," said Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, who held the podium for more than six hours. "We had our minds made up and were working effectively as a team."
Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, said she voted to send the bill to the Medical Affairs Committee because it was the only way to get anything else done for the rest of the session, which by law must end at 5 p.m. Thursday.
Bills the Senate can take up by breaking the logjam include those dealing with the fallout of the failed, $9 billion nuclear power project in Fairfield County.
"We didn't have a way out. We couldn't have gotten out of that with a can of gasoline and a match," said Shealy, who earlier voted on the losing side in attempts to end the filibuster. "We could've stayed there and talked. We could've talked about it every day next week, and we'd be at the same place Thursday" and gotten nothing accomplished.
"They had the momentum," she said. "We lost the battle and the war."
But only on that bill, she said.
But Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Hartsville, said he refuses to take a victory lap.
"You don't count legislation dead until it's dead," said Malloy, a master of Senate rules who helped coordinate Democrats' efforts. "This issue comes up time and time again. It's one of those big issues of our day. It never goes away."
Another abortion bill remains on the Senate's calendar. It would indirectly outlaw abortion by extending legal rights to fertilized eggs. Sen. Richard Cash, the chamber's leading abortion foe, tried unsuccessfully earlier this week to replace the bill being debated with the so-called "personhood" proposal. While it's unlikely, especially after the filibuster bruising, the Senate could still debate "personhood" before the week is over.
Cash, R-Powdersville, pledged Friday to keep fighting for proposals to end abortions. He wants South Carolina to pass a law challenging the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 landmark decision that legalized abortion. And he wants no exemptions.
In cases of rape or incest, he said, "an unborn baby can't be guilty of being conceived in those circumstances," he said.
For several hours Wednesday, both the House and Senate were bogged down in abortion debates.
Democrats in the House were unable to stop Republicans from inserting a clause in the chamber's budget plan that defunds abortion clinics in South Carolina. The clinics get no tax money for abortions. But the amendment bars clinics from receiving any money for the non-abortion services they provide, such as women’s annual exams, mammograms and birth control. Doing so could require South Carolina to replace $34 million in federal Medicaid money with state taxes.
Abortion foes' effort to put that into the Senate's budget plan failed earlier this year.
A committee of senators and House members will start meeting this week to hash out differences in the chambers' $8 billion budget plans.