COLUMBIA — With a Senate showdown looming over a measure to essentially outlaw abortions in South Carolina, a Democratic lawmaker wants to make sure women who would be forced to bring unwanted pregnancies to term are compensated for them.
State Sen. Mia McLeod on Wednesday prefiled legislation arguing that women compelled to give birth against their will are “gestational” surrogates who have a right to be paid for their services.
“Clearly the state has indicated it has a vested interest in this issue, so if that is the case, and if we are about to do what would be required under the fetal heartbeat bill, then surely there would be some provisions made for the women and girls who are forced to carry these babies to term,” McLeod said of her South Carolina Pro Birth Accountability Act.
Last month, the Senate Medical Affairs Committee voted 9-6 along party lines to advance a bill that would prohibit abortions as soon as a heartbeat is detected by ultrasound — sometimes as early as five weeks into a pregnancy.
Providers who violate the law or fail to determine whether a heartbeat is present before ending a pregnancy could be jailed for two years or fined $10,000. Lawmakers included exceptions for victims of rape or incest up to 20 weeks pregnant with verification from law enforcement.
House approval for the bill, H. 3020, came in April, and Gov. Henry McMaster has said he’ll sign it with or without the exemption for crime victims.
Eight states have similar laws on the books, but all of them are facing legal battles due to the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that legalized abortion. McLeod said her proposal is the first of its kind in the nation.
The financial impact of her proposal isn’t yet clear, but she said it likely would run into the millions of dollars.
Under her bill, compensation would take several forms, including automatic eligibility for public assistance programs, income and other tax credits; health insurance until a child turns 18; and state paid funeral and burial expenses if a woman or the fetus die during the gestational period, labor or delivery.
“It’s not a tongue-in-cheek kind of bill. It took a lot of thought and a lot of preparation because no other state has introduced anything remotely similar and it certainly warrants a very thoughtful and deliberate discussion and debate, and I hope that we’ll have that,” McLeod of Columbia said. “Every year, there is some bill that seeks to take from women. This is a way to give them a real chance at life.”
Ann Warner, CEO of Columbia-based Women Rights’ Empowerment Network, said McLeod’s measure is a byproduct of unnecessary legislation.
“This bill makes the point that legislators are not only wasting our precious time and resources with these extreme abortion bans; they will also create multiple new problems for people in South Carolina,” she said.
The concept of gestational surrogacy is not unique to McLeod. During House deliberations last year, several reproductive rights groups and advocates, including former gubernatorial candidate Marguerite Willis, said such a provision should be enacted alongside the “fetal heartbeat” bill.
“As a matter of constitutional law, a state may not force a citizen to serve in any capacity without fair payment or to take a citizen's property without just compensation ... a woman's uterus is not unlike rental property, as a commissioning couple agrees to pay a gestational surrogate certain compensation for carrying a fetus to term and giving birth to a child,” McLeod’s bill says.
McLeod’s bill also targets absentee fathers by allowing jail terms of up to three years for men who accrue more than $5,000 in missed child support payments.
State Rep. John McCravy, R-Greenwood, and lead sponsor of the fetal heartbeat bill, said he wouldn’t support McLeod’s proposal if it comes to a vote in the House.
"There are many crisis pregnancy centers across our state that already offer help and assistance with prenatal, adoption and/or child care," McCravy said, referencing the CrossRoads Pregnancy Center in his district.
"Not only is material and spiritual help already out there, but I believe most people recognize the infinite blessing of life given by our Creator," he said.
McLeod, who underwent two high-risk pregnancies, said the bill is personal for her.
“We have no regard for the children born in this state, regardless of whether abortion is an available option and we don’t often think about the impact on the mom. If the fetal heartbeat bill were to have passed, I could have easily been one of those women who might not be around right now,” she said.