Panel tries to define ‘severe fetal anomaly’ in effort to pass 20-week abortion ban

Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet

COLUMBIA — Lawmakers are having a difficult time agreeing on how to define an exception in a bill that further restricts abortions in South Carolina.

Both chambers passed a House bill that bans abortions past 20 weeks of pregnancy during the legislative session. But the House stripped exemptions the Senate added for cases of rape, incest and severe fetal anomalies. On Tuesday, a joint House-Senate panel failed to iron out their differences between the versions of the bill.

Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet, said he believes the Senate could consider a compromise that leaves out cases of rape or incest, but includes an exemption for severe fetal anomalies. There were several hang-ups, but the main one centered on how to define severe fetal anomalies.

“It’s just hard to define a medical condition and do it in a black and white situation,” Cleary said. “There’s no black and white medical situations.”

Another sticking point was the definition of abortion. The Senate added an exclusion for the use of contraceptives, intrauterine devices commonly referred to as IUDs and the morning after pill. The purpose was to ensure the law does not become a back-door “personhood” bill, which defines life as beginning at conception and gives a fetus legal rights.

Cleary added that both he and members of the House would have to request “free conference powers,” which allows them to amend the bill with new information, instead of being restricted to the language that was already approved on by both chambers. If the panel reaches an agreement, the amended bill goes back to both chambers for final approval.

Rep. Greg Delleney, R-Chester, said he hopes both chambers can reach a compromise before the special session ends Thursday. To move the bill along, senators would have to agree to strip the rape and abortion exceptions, Delleney said.

“We’re talking about a person who may be viable,” Delleney said. “This is not China. We don’t kill the disabled. We don’t kill children who the parents cannot afford them. We don’t kill children who were conceived in less than optimal circumstances.”

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.