McMaster Summerville April 3

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster addresses the Rotary Club of Summerville Wednesday, April 3, 2019. After his remarks, McMaster said he would sign a bill to ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Caitlin Byrd/Staff

SUMMERVILLE — South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster promised Wednesday to sign a bill that would ban abortion as soon as a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat, saying "the right to life is fundamental" and the "abortion culture" is dangerous to the state.

"Abortions on-demand are not good," the governor said after addressing the Rotary Club here. "Abortion culture is harmful to the state, to our people."

Asked to define what "abortion culture" means, McMaster chewed over the idea.

"It's a place where abortions occur as they do in our state and others," he said, and then clarifying, "It is a culture where abortion is accepted as simply a medical procedure."

McMaster's comments came one day after the South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat Protection from Abortion Act, or H.3020, passed along mostly party lines in the House Judiciary Committee. The proposal that would stop almost all abortions is on the House floor. 

The Palmetto State could join a broader movement to severely restrict access to abortions.

During hours of contentious debate on Tuesday, opponents of the bill told lawmakers that many women may not even realize they are pregnant when a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around the 6-week mark of pregnancy.

When asked about this concern, which was raised by a number of obstetricians and gynecologists at the committee hearing, McMaster, a former state attorney general who campaigned for governor last year on an anti-abortion platform, shook his head. 

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"I'm aware of the points, of the positions," he said, "but abortion and abortion culture is harmful, and we must change that."

In South Carolina, it is illegal for women to obtain an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The procedure may only be performed after 20 weeks if the mother’s life is in jeopardy. The current law does not provide exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

The heartbeat bill added exceptions for rape or incest during the hearing Tuesday.

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Political Reporter

Caitlin Byrd is a political reporter at The Post and Courier and author of the Palmetto Politics newsletter. Before moving to Charleston in 2016, her byline appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times. To date, Byrd has won 17 awards for her work.