South Carolina lawmakers passed a “fetal heartbeat bill” on Wednesday that will ban most abortions in the state after the pregnancy is about six weeks in.
The legislation passed 79–35 votes in favor in the Republican majority House who have gained three seats during the elections last year. Many officials considered the “South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act” a top priority.
Gov. Henry McMaster repeatedly backed the abortion ban as one of his biggest focuses since being sworn-in to office in 2017.
McMaster has promised to sign the bill as soon as he can and after the House will give it a final procedural vote on Thursday, which is unlikely to change the outcome.
“We’re closer than we’ve ever been to passing into law the most comprehensive pro-life legislation our state has ever seen,” McMaster tweeted in January. During a press conference Wednesday, the governor called the bill “one of the most pro-life in the country.”
The new bill will require doctors to use ultrasound on a pregnant woman to try and find a detectable fetal heartbeat before the abortion can continue, according to a statement from the South Carolina General Assembly.
If a heartbeat is detected, the abortion can only be performed if the health of the mother is at risk—or in case of rape, incest, or fatal fetal anomalies that could lead to the infant’s death.
The bill will not punish a pregnant woman for having an illegal abortion but the person who performed the abortion could be charged with a felony, sentenced up to two years, and fined $10,000 if found guilty.
South Carolina senators have over the years reintroduced multiple bills seeking to ban abortions in the state and potentially make it a crime to get one.
“From the moment life begins, it should be protected, as an inalienable right under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments,” Republican Sen. Richard Cash said. “I do believe in a moral absolute of right and wrong, and the shedding of innocent blood is a moral evil we need to turn away from.”
Republican Rep. David Hiott of Pickens said the bill is the “greatest pro-life bill this state has ever passed.” Many state senators spoke in favor of the legislation and also cheered after the vote.
Most House Democrats walked out in protest of the bill shortly after Rep. Todd Rutherford from Richland shared his viewpoint, comparing the “fetal heartbeat bill” with lives lost from the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic and the opioid crisis, calling Republican lawmakers hypocritical for not mandating masks.
“One of the speakers yesterday said 8,000 people in this state have died because of COVID-19. And yet in this very body, we serve with people that believe that the government should not make people wear masks,” Rutherford said.
“The Democratic caucus is not going to participate in this farce of a vote about pretend life,” the Democratic lawmaker continued. “We care about life, we care about people eating, people not dying because they can’t get vaccines, people not dying because they can’t get tests.”
“We don’t believe that life begins when science says it does not,” he added. “We more firmly believe that we are here to take care of people.”
Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter of Orangeburg, a Democrat and the House’s longest-serving member at 29 years, criticized the South Carolina General Assembly for making the abortion bill a priority over education, several CCP virus bills.
“The government not having any business mandating face masks sounds to me real close to the government not having any business telling a woman what to do with her body,” Cobb-Hunter said.
Two Democrats voted in favor of the ban and two Republicans voted against it.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.