South Carolina House lawmakers have advanced a bill that would ban abortions after 19 weeks of pregnancy.
In a unanimous vote, the House panel of four Republicans and one Democrat allowed the bill to clear its first hurdle Thursday by unanimously passing it up to the House Judiciary Committee. Similar legislation passed the House in 2014, but opponents prevented it from reaching a vote in the Senate.
Currently, South Carolina bans abortions after 23 weeks — which is when it considers a fetus to be “viable,” or potentially able to survive outside the mother’s womb. The bill’s sponsor State Rep. Wendy Nanney, R-Greenville, argues whether or not a fetus can feel pain after 19 weeks should be considered.
“As human beings, we’re not going to intentionally inflict pain on a little baby,” she told South Carolina Radio Network.
But the medical community is divided on the issue, with a majority of obstetricians, gynecologists, and neurologists believing no, the body’s nerve system is not developed at that point. But a minority do believe there’s a possibility, citing their own observations of fetal reactions during emergency surgery that are consistent with adult reactions to pain.
“I would certainly rather err on the side of caution,” Nanney said. “A doctor that would perform surgery on a baby at that age, they always use anesthesia.”
In 2011, only about 1.4 percent of all South Carolina abortions occur within 19 and 23 weeks, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. The majority of those are due to medical complications. Nanney’s bill does still allow abortions whenever the mother’s health is at risk.
“Pro-choice” groups say the bill is unconstitutional because it disregards the “viability” requirement that the Supreme Court set under Roe v. Wade. Similar bans in Arizona and Georgia have been overturned by courts.
The bill would also require a physician to determine the age of the fetus or child before an abortion at any stage could be performed.