Haley touts new anti-abortion law Holds ceremonial second signing of 20-week ban in conservative Upstate

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley

TAYLORS — Gov. Nikki Haley traveled to a Christian school for children with disabilities to re-sign a new state law that bans abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy, holding the ceremony in the heart of the conservative Upstate.

Haley said she did not bring this second and more symbolic bill-signing to the Greenville area because abortion is so political. Instead, she said, it’s because she’s a mom.

“I’m not pro-life because the Republican Party tells me,” Haley said. “I’m pro-life because all of us have had experiences of what it means to have one of these special little ones in our life.”

Haley told an overflow crowd of more than 100 people at Hidden Treasure Christian School that signing the bill was personal, relating how she almost lost her daughter Rena, who turned 18 on Wednesday, during a tough pregnancy.

Haley was flanked by dozens of children during the ceremonial signing but did not stay for media questions, immediately leaving the school once the presentation was over.

Winthrop University professor Scott Huffmon said the pomp and circumstance of holding a ceremony for an anti-abortion bill that she originally signed last month was Haley’s way of laying the groundwork for a political future when her term ends in two years.

“She’s not going to suddenly leap into national news for having signed this — a Southern Republican governor signing a restrictive abortion bill isn’t really news,” Huffmon said.

He added, “It’s more about filing it away for the long haul when she can come out later and say, I’m a proven conservative. Look at all the conservative boxes I’ve checked off.”

Pro-life advocates, including Holly Gatling, executive director with S.C. Citizens for Life, said the symbolism of Haley touting her support of the bill at the school could not be ignored.

“This school, called Hidden Treasures, takes care of students with multiple kinds of disabilities, many diagnosed when they reached 20 weeks of pre-birth development,” Gatling said.

The legislation, which Haley officially signed May 25, makes it illegal for a pregnant female to get an abortion once her pregnancy reaches 20 weeks with no exceptions for rape or incest. The law allows doctors to perform abortions past 20 weeks only if the fetus has been diagnosed with an “anomaly” and will die, or the mother’s life is threatened. Doctors who disobey the new rules would face jail time.

Alyssa Miller, spokeswoman with Planned Parenthood South Carolina, said it was disappointing that Haley not only signed the bill but is continuing to tout it around the state.

“Gov. Haley continues to put politics ahead of the health and safety of women in South Carolina,” she said. “This is a dangerous and medically unsound measure. Abortion is a deeply personal and often complex decision that is best left to a woman and her doctor, not politicians.”

Three outpatient clinics — in Charleston, Columbia and Greenville — are licensed to offer abortions in South Carolina. State law already prohibits the clinics from performing abortions past the 18th week of a woman’s pregnancy. In practice, these clinics only offer abortions through the 13th or 14th week of pregnancy, according to their websites.

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Dr. Scott Sullivan, director of maternal-fetal medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, represents 450 OB-GYNs in South Carolina as chairman of the state chapter of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. He wrote Haley a letter earlier this year urging her to veto the bill.

The ban would force doctors to screen for genetic defects earlier during a woman’s pregnancy when test results are less reliable, Sullivan said.

On average, fewer than 30 abortions yearly are performed at 20 weeks gestation or beyond in South Carolina, according to data since 1990 from the state’s public health agency.

Haley said her support for the bill was rooted primarily in choosing life.

“What we need to do when we leave this bill-signing is we celebrate life,” she said. “But we go with a responsibility to not judge those that are contemplating abortion, or choosing abortion. But to see it as our responsibility to tell them those stories (of those who chose to give birth). Because the reason people contemplate abortion is out of fear.”

Reach Maya T. Prabhu at 843-509-8933.