Fetal heartbeat abortion bill clears House subcommittee after hours of testimony

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South Carolina’s fetal heartbeat abortion bill began advancing through the state House on Wednesday, when members of the Constitutional Law Subcommittee advanced the bill in a vote of 3-2.

Senate Bill 1 would criminalize abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detectable except in cases of a medical emergency, rape, incest or a fetal anomaly. Abortions are banned in South Carolina after 20 weeks of pregnancy. A fetal heartbeat usually can be detected about six weeks after conception, before many women realize they are pregnant.

“One of the things that strikes me in this discussion is where viability occurs,” said Rep. Russell Fry, R-Horry, noting that advances in medical and scientific technology have expanded understanding of prenatal life.

“If you look at the Roe decision, viability was determined to be about 28 weeks. In the Casey decision in ‘92, it was 23 to 24 weeks,” Fry said. “The Supreme Court has said that a state has a very compelling interest in protecting the life of the unborn. … I think those questions are apt to be decided at the state level.”

In addition to criminalizing abortions once a heartbeat can be detected, the bill would require abortion providers to conduct an ultrasound and listen for a fetal heartbeat before performing an abortion. Providers also would be required to advise women of alternatives to an abortion, such as adoption or foster care. As amended, the bill also requires the state to cover pre- and post-natal care for uninsured mothers legally residing in South Carolina.

“I’m of the opinion that this bill is extremely unconstitutional. I don’t think there’s any, any question there,” Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg, said.

The vote was taken after nearly four hours of testimony from constituents in favor of and in opposition to the bill, including Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette.

“If we’re using the heartbeat, as the scientific test for when our life ends, I think it only makes good common sense that we use it for determining when our life begins,” Evette told committee members. “As a mother, as a woman and as a leader in South Carolina, I think it’s important that I stand up to show my support.”

The heartbeat bill passed the Senate last week, 30-13. Gov. Henry McMaster has repeatedly promised to sign a heartbeat bill once passed by the Legislature.

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