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South Carolina House passes bill restricting abortions

A number of empty seats are seen in the South Carolina House chamber on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021 in Columbia, S.C. Democrats walked out during the debate. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The South Carolina House on Wednesday passed a bill banning nearly all abortions, following the lead of other states with similar measures that would go into effect if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade.

The proposal passed the Senate on Jan. 28. It faces a final procedural vote in the House on Thursday that likely won’t change the outcome and will then be sent to the governor for his signature. Republican Gov. Henry McMaster has promised to sign the measure as soon as possible.

The House voted 79-35 in favor of the bill after nearly all members of the Democratic caucus walked out in protest at one point. A few Democrats stayed behind as Republicans wiped out more than 100 proposed amendments. After holding a news conference to speak against the bill, several other Democrats returned to express their opposition to the measure, which has come up for debate in the legislature numerous times over the past decade. Nearly all House members were later present for the vote.

“You love the fetus in the womb. But when it is born, it’s a different reaction,” said Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter of Orangeburg, the House’s longest serving member at 29 years.

Numerous Republican lawmakers spoke in favor of the bill.

Rep. Melissa Lackey Oremus said plenty of women have mixed feelings when they get pregnant, especially when they aren’t where they want to be in their life. But the Republican from Aiken said that’s no reason for abortion.

“They don’t deserve to die just because their mother made a bad choice one night,” Oremus said.

The bill requires doctors to perform ultrasounds to check for a heartbeat in the fetus. If one is detected, the abortion can only be performed if the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest or the mother’s life is in danger.

About a dozen other states have passed similar or more restrictive abortion bans, which could take effect if the U.S. Supreme Court — with three justices appointed by Republican former President Donald Trump — were to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 court decision supporting abortion rights.

Groups that oppose the “South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act” will likely sue, keeping the law from going into effect. All of the bans passed by other states are tied up in court challenges.

For years, the bill has failed to pass the Senate. But Republicans gained three seats in the 2020 elections and the newly energized 30-16 Republican majority made the proposal Senate Bill No. 1 and finally pushed it over a procedural hurdle.

Republicans have urged people who want to see even more restrictions put on abortion to avoid changing the bill to make sure it passes. The only change was in the Senate to add exemptions for pregnancies caused by rape and incest.

The bill would not punish a pregnant woman for getting an illegal abortion, but the person who performed the abortion could be charged with a felony, sentenced up to two years and fined $10,000 if found guilty.

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