A compromise proposal that would shorten the amount of time for abortions in South Carolina has now cleared the Senate, but it appears the House is unlikely to consider the measure this week.
Senators voted 36-9 Tuesday in favor of a bill that would shorten the window for an abortion in South Carolina to 19 weeks of pregnancy, down from the current 23 weeks. The proposal approved Tuesday is a compromise from a joint conference committee of House and Senate members. It adds a new exception that would allow abortions after that window in the case of “fetal anomaly.” Previously, House members had backed a version that only allowed abortions after 20 weeks if the mother’s life or serious bodily functions were at risk.
Neither version includes an exemption for cases of rape or incest, which does exist for abortions in the first 19 weeks.
Supporters hope to tighten the window for women to get an abortion by arguing a fetus can start to feel pain at 20 weeks. Opponents noted the medical community is divided on the issue, with a majority of the research actually suggesting an unborn infant does not have a developed nerve system by that age. Nine Democratic senators joined all Republicans in supporting the bill Tuesday.
Procedures after 20 weeks make up less than 0.5 percent of all abortions performed in South Carolina, according to previous years’ data from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control. Opponents of the bill argue they tend to be done after pregnancy complications.
The “fetal anomaly” language clarifies a fetus could not be aborted after 20 weeks unless it could not survive outside the womb. House Republicans had opposed the language, worried it could be abused by those seeking to go around the law.
A procedural test vote that would have taken up the compromise bill failed in the House 82-26 vote Wednesday. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Greg Delleney, R-Chester, indicated he could try again next week.
A final vote in the House would send the bill to Governor Nikki Haley’s desk.