A group of South Carolina lawmakers on Wednesday advanced a proposal to ban all abortions in the state should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn the nationwide right to the procedure.
Following the subcommittee’s vote, the full Senate Medical Affairs committee is now poised to consider that measure, along with a second bill requiring doctors to tell women receiving drug-induced abortions about a controversial method to possibly halt the abortion process.
The first proposal would define that life begins at fertilization and any doctor who performs an abortion after that point could face similar charges to murder. The bill also says birth control and other contraception methods would not be outlawed and abortions could be performed if a mother’s life is in danger or an egg was fertilized outside the womb.
If passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature, the law would take effect if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision that protected abortion rights across the country, and turn that decision over to states. About a dozen states already have similar laws.
Sen. Richard Cash, a Republican from Anderson sponsoring the bill, said in a public hearing that South Carolina needed to join states with so-called trigger laws. The General Assembly should pass the law before the end of the session, Cash added, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to issue a decision over a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy this summer that could undermine Roe.
Opponents of the bill have argued it restricts women’s bodily autonomy and would also have consequences including barring people from some fertility treatments and forcing women who experience miscarriages to be scrutinized under the law.
Lawmakers said they would consider amendments to address issues of rape, incest, and assisted reproduction as the legislation moves forward.
“My rights as a woman do not supersede a baby’s right to live,” testified Kelly Rowe, a board member of Personhood SC.
Lawmakers also advanced a proposal that would require physicians to give patients receiving the two-dose drug a written statement saying the abortion could potentially be reversed after the first pill, a stance experts have disputed.
Supporters of the bill, including Republican Rep. John McCravy, framed the measure as a way to give pregnant women another choice.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists deems the so-called “abortion reversal” procedures unproven and unethical. At UC Davis, researchers said in 2019 they had to halt a randomized clinical study on the reversal procedure after three women experienced severe bleeding and had to go to the ER, leading researchers to warn that not completing the two-drug abortion pill sequence could result in hemorrhage.
Multiple obstetrician-gynecologists testifying Wednesday argued the measure would harm patients and damage the physician-patient relationship by requiring doctors to provide misinformation.
The proposal “forces me to lie, to say something that I know is untrue and potentially dangerous,” said Dr. Carol Alan, one of those physicians.
Still, supporters of the measure cited anecdotal instances of women carrying pregnancies to term after not completing the two-dose abortion drug sequence, including a woman who brought her 18-month-old son to the hearing as proof of the so-called abortion reversal pill’s efficacy. One family practice doctor, Dr. Bryan Casey, claimed to lawmakers he had “seen scores of babies saved” by prescribing such off-label medication to women over 13 years of practice in South Carolina.
About a dozen states have passed similar laws requiring doctors to inform patients of so-called abortion reversal procedures, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights. Federal judges have blocked the measures from taking effect in Indiana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.
South Carolina’s General Assembly passed a law banning most abortions last year. It requires doctors to perform ultrasounds to check for a so-called “fetal heartbeat,” which can typically be detected about six weeks after conception. If cardiac activity is detected, the abortion can only be performed if the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest, or the mother’s life was in danger.
Medical experts say cardiac activity is not an actual heartbeat but rather an initial flutter of electric activity within cells in an embryo. They say the heart doesn’t begin to form until the fetus is at least nine weeks old, and they decry efforts to promote abortion bans by relying on medical inaccuracies.
Federal courts have put enforcement of the law on hold as they determine if it is constitutional. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals is set to hear arguments on the lawsuit Thursday.