COLUMBIA — Fetuses that survive an abortion, even those with little or no chance of living, would be treated "humanely" under a bill that is nearing approval in the state Legislature.

Lawmakers are nearing their summer adjournment, but action by a subcommittee Wednesday to advance the bill to the full Senate Judiciary Committee would give it enough time to become law this year.

Critics of the proposal believe it is propaganda with no practical purpose, but abortion foes say the bill is a matter of compassion.

"With this vote, the South Carolina Senate is saying this: No child in 21st century America should be discarded to die alone just because he or she isn't wanted," said Oran Smith, executive director of the Palmetto Family Council. "A civilized society should accept no less."

If the full Senate approves the bill, it would return to the House. The House passed the bill in February, but it has since been amended.

The legislation would recognize a fetus, at any stage of development, as an infant if the infant breathes or has a beating heart at birth, regardless how the infant was born, by labor, cesarean section or induced abortion. It mirrors a 2002 federal law, which applies only to fetuses that survive an abortion on federal property.

Unlike other anti-abortion measures that are proposed, the "born alive" bill does not typically draw vocal opponents. The number of cases where such a law would apply are not tracked.

Most abortions are performed early in pregnancy when the fetus has less of a chance of survival out of the womb. Nine in 10 abortions occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The institute is a Washington, D.C.-based health research organization that supports abortion rights.

In South Carolina, abortions in the third-trimester are prohibited unless the woman's life is endangered. The state also bans partial-birth abortions.

If the Legislature passes the "born alive" bill, it would join 27 other states that already have laws on the matter. Of those, 24 states passed the laws in the 1970s and 1980s, Elizabeth Nash, a public policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute, said.

Nash said the bill is a non- issue that is more about getting people riled up about abortion than trying to solve a problem.

Sen. Jake Knotts, a West Columbia Republican and chairman of the subcommittee that passed the bill, said it is about treating the fetus "humanely," regardless of whether that fetus would ultimately survive.

The "born alive" bill is one of two abortion-related bills that gained traction in the Legislature this year. The other would require women to wait 24 hours before they could receive an abortion. That bill also is pending in the Senate.

The current waiting period in South Carolina is an hour. If the bill passes, the state would join 24 others with a 24-hour wait.