South Carolina senators voted down a bill that would have prohibited nearly all abortions in a conservative state that has increasingly treated patients in an area where Republican politicians have traditionally restricted access.
A 22-21 vote Thursday is the third time a near-total abortion ban has failed in the Republican-led chamber since the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer. Six Republicans voted against motions to halt debate, therefore killing any possibility of the bill passing this year.
The chamber’s five women filibustered the legislation in comments that lambasted the Senate’s male majority for prioritizing abortion discussions above other critical issues.
Republican Sen. Penry Gustafson spent more than 30 minutes Wednesday outlining the physical changes that occur during each stage of pregnancy. Gustafson stated that she talked for so long because the bill’s millions of target women had not been heard. She stressed her “pro-life” stance while saying the idea leaves “no room for empathy, reality, or graciousness.”
Republican Senator Sandy Senn chastised Majority Leader Shane Massey for “taking us off the cliff on abortion.”
“The only thing we can do when you all, you men in the chamber, keep metaphorically slapping women by bringing up abortion again and again and again,” Senn continued, “is slap you back with our words.”
The law would have prohibited abortion during pregnancy, with exceptions for rape or incest during the first trimester, fatal fetal defects proved by two physicians, and to save the patient’s life or health.
Independent Senator Mia McLeod chastised leaders for prioritizing the near-total prohibition over efforts to make South Carolina the 49th state in the country to have legislation providing stiffer sanctions for severe hate crimes.
McLeod, who said she had been raped during a previous abortion discussion, said it is awful that women must expose private experiences to “enlighten and engage” men.
“Just as rape is about power and control, so is this total ban,” McLeod explained on Thursday. “Those who continue to push legislation like this are raping us again with their indifference, violating us again with their righteous indignation, and taunting us again with their insatiable need to play God while they continue to pass laws that are ungodly.”
Abortion is still permitted in South Carolina until 22 weeks, attracting patients from around the increasingly conservative Southeast.
According to preliminary state health department data that could alter, the number of abortions and out-of-state patients has increased since the South Carolina Supreme Court first enjoined and then knocked down a 2021 law.
Supporters argue that the bill is necessary to halt these trends. Opponents claimed it would merely impede safe access to the surgery, exacerbate the state’s already shockingly high maternal mortality rates, and result in even worse outcomes for Black women.
The vote preserves the legislative stalemate that was evident during a special session last year when the House and Senate were unable to agree on when South Carolina should prohibit abortion. The Senate has passed a new restriction that goes into effect when heart activity is found, which can happen as early as six weeks and before many women realize they are pregnant.
The developments have shocked even the most adamant anti-abortion legislators in a General Assembly that had previously led the way on laws such as mandating physicians to advise patients that they can see an ultrasound before the procedure.
Republican Sen. Richard Cash began the debate on Wednesday by expressing regret that a majority party that has long waved the “pro-life” flag would not enact a total abortion prohibition.
“I’m not going to sit back and let the goalposts for what it means to be pro-life in the Republican Party be moved,” Cash said.
Massey stated that Thursday’s decision demonstrates that the House must study the Senate bill in order for lawmakers to have a chance to impose new limits before the session expires on May 11.
House Speaker Murrell Smith refused to commit to voting on the Senate bill, but he did tell reporters on Wednesday that the House “is always going to evaluate its options on protecting life.”
Republican Gov. Henry McMaster urged lawmakers on Wednesday to enact legislation that “the vast majority of our state” deems acceptable. He then explained that he believes the majority of people approved a 2021 law prohibiting abortion when heart activity is found — a law that the state’s top court ruled unlawful and that is similar to the Senate version.