The South Carolina House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a bill that would ban abortion after 19 weeks of pregnancy — down from the current limit of 23 weeks.
The bill would likely have little practical impact, as only a small percentage of abortions occur after 20 weeks even under the current law. South Carolina’s public health agency told the Associated Press that only 25 abortions occurred statewide in 2012. Reproductive health groups say almost all abortions at that point are done in hospitals due to medical complications that threaten the mother’s life, which would be exempt under the legislation.
“We are just asking you to recognize that a child at 20 weeks in the womb feels pain. And it deserves life,” the bill’s sponsor State Rep. Wendy Nanney, R-Greenville, told her colleagues on the floor Wednesday. Opponents noted the American Medical Association and Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists dispute that it is definitive whether a fetus can feel pain by 20 weeks into gestation.
Supporters also hope the bill’s language can offer a potential challenge to the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling. In that case, the Court ruled a state can intervene in abortions only after a fetus is considered “viable,” or able to live outside its mother’s womb.
But State Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, said several other states (notably Arizona and Georgia) have had similar laws ruled unconstitutional by courts. “This law has been tested. And it has failed,” he said on the floor. “So, we’re going to go beat our head against the wall collectively as a state by thinking we somehow know better.”
13 Democrats joined Republicans in passing the bill. Among them was State Rep. Robert Ridgeway, D-Manning, who is an OB/GYN in his private life. Ridgeway said his own experiences lead him to believe a fetus’ nervous system has begun developing by the end of the second trimester.
“I can’t sit here and say a hundred percent whether they feel pain or not,” he said before the vote. “But what I do see is, when you look with an ultrasound… you can make vibrations or noises on Mom’s abdomen (known as “vibroacoustic stimulation”). The baby will react to that.”