The South Carolina House of Representatives on Wednesday passed legislation that would ban nearly all abortions at every stage of pregnancy, with exceptions including in cases of rape and incest.
The House passed the legislation by a vote of 67-35 on Wednesday morning after roughly two hours of debate, with the majority of speeches coming from Democrats speaking against the bill.
The state Senate will reconvene after the Labor Day holiday to take up the bill.
The near-total abortion ban was amended Tuesday night to add an exception for cases of rape and incest up to 12 weeks after conception, with requirements to report to law enforcement. That amendment – a major point of contention among Republicans – was adopted by voice vote in a hasty reconsideration of the original bill, which had just been rejected by the House earlier in the night.
Along with the rape and incest exceptions, House Bill 5399 would allow exceptions in order to prevent the death of the pregnant woman, the substantial risk of death for the pregnant woman because of a physical condition or “the substantial physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.” The bill lists several medical conditions it deems pose such a risk to the pregnant woman, including a molar pregnancy, ectopic pregnancy, severe preeclampsia and a miscarriage.
Under the bill, those who violate the law could face a felony charge punishable by a $10,000 fine and up to two years in prison. Abortion providers could also have their licenses revoked.
The pregnant woman who underwent an abortion that violated the bill’s provisions, the parent or guardian of the pregnant woman if they are a minor, or state attorneys with proper jurisdiction could also pursue legal action against the abortion provider and be able to obtain statutory damages of $10,000.
If enacted, the bill would also set conception as the start date for the biological father’s child support payment responsibilities.
Earlier Tuesday, the Republican-controlled state House rejected the original version of the bill without exceptions for rape or incest. Conservative Republicans spent the afternoon voting down amendments originally proposed by their GOP colleagues that would have added exceptions for rape, incest and fetal anomalies, as well as clarified language on the meaning of banning abortion from the “moment of conception.”
Democrats, in an apparent strategy to force Republicans to record votes on the near-total ban without exceptions for rape and incest, often joined with more conservative Republican members in killing the amendments.
However, after H 5399 initially failed by a vote of 47-55, members voted to reconsider and added the exception for rape and incest, up to 12 weeks, with reporting requirements. The amended version passed 67-38.
The bill’s advancement comes as the South Carolina Supreme Court has temporarily blocked the state’s six-week abortion ban from being enforced.
That law bans abortions once what it called a “fetal heartbeat” is detected, which can be as early as four weeks, and more commonly, six weeks into pregnancy, with exceptions for fetal anomalies, risk to the life of the mother, or in some cases of rape or incest.
The term “fetal heartbeat” is controversial because a heart with chambers does not exist until the end of the tenth week of gestation. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says the medically accurate terms are “embryonic cardiac activity” prior to eight weeks of gestation, and “fetal cardiac activity” after eight weeks of gestation. In practice, many people do not realize they are pregnant at the six-week point.
This story has been updated with additional developments.