Catherine Templeton in Columbia on Feb. 26, 2018 (copy)

Catherine Templeton, a GOP candidate for S.C. governor, introduces her family to a crowd of supporters in Columbia during a Monday campaign launch. File/Staff/Joseph Cranney

COLUMBIA — Catherine Templeton, a Republican candidate challenging Gov. Henry McMaster, has changed her position on a bill that would effectively ban all abortions in the state, saying she now supports the effort despite her earlier concerns it does not include an exception for victims of incest.

The move comes days after the "Personhood Act," which would define life as beginning at fertilization and extend constitutional protections to all unborn children, received a significant boost passing through the state Senate Judiciary Committee.

Earlier in the campaign, Templeton had distinguished herself from the rest of the GOP field by saying she believes there should be an exception for incest. 

That stance earned a stern rebuke from the bill's supporters who excoriated the candidate for being insufficiently pro-life. The board of Personhood South Carolina, an organization focused on promoting the abortion ban, said Templeton's view amounted to support for murdering unborn children based on the circumstances of their conception.

In a tele-town hall Monday evening, a caller asked Templeton about her position on the Personhood bill.

"I would support any law in South Carolina that would reduce the number of abortions," Templeton responded.

Templeton campaign spokesman Mark Powell confirmed the candidate has shifted her stance on the issue.

“While campaigning, Catherine Templeton was asked to pray about her support for life and consider making no exceptions," Powell said. "It may not be the politically correct answer, but so be it." 

With strong opposition from Democrats and some Republicans, the legislation faces an uphill path to becoming law. Opponents have noted the measure does not include an exception for victims of rape, even if the victim is a child, and have argued the bill could endanger mothers.

All four other Republicans in the governor's race have said they unequivocally oppose all abortions. One candidate, Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, sponsored the Personhood Act when he was a state senator, and McMaster has vowed to sign it into law if it lands on his desk.

Three of the candidates have signed a pledge to support the Personhood bill. Greenville businessman John Warren, the newest contender to enter the race, has not.

Templeton, a Mount Pleasant attorney and former state agency director, has cast herself as a "conservative outsider." At a campaign stop Monday, she brought out a buzzsaw to symbolize how she was going to cut through regulatory red tape in Columbia.

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Templeton often touts her personal pro-life credentials on the campaign trail. Due to medical complications when she was pregnant with twins, Templeton said doctors recommended aborting one child to save the other, and she declined. That personal history influenced her new position on the Personhood legislation, the campaign said. Both babies were born and survived.

"She prayed about it, reflected on God's great blessings in her own family, and will not apologize for deciding to err on the side of life," Powell said.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Templeton supported former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the GOP primary. Bush argued his view on abortion — outlawing it with exceptions for cases of rape and incest — put him in the "sweet spot" for a Republican nominee.

Templeton has since become a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, who has said there should be exceptions to abortion bans for cases of rape, incest and if the mother's life is in danger.

Matt Clark, executive director of Personhood SC, applauded Templeton for her new position.

"We are happy to hear that Mrs. Templeton has chosen to pledge her support to Personhood," Clark said. "This is great news."

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina Statehouse, congressional delegation and campaigns. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.