COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA - A group of South Carolina senators restored exceptions for rape and incest on Tuesday to a measure that would ban nearly all abortions, then sent the bill to the Senate floor for a 2020 election year fight.
The exceptions had been removed by a smaller group of senators two months ago.
The legislative back-and-forth continues as proponents worry the ban can't get passed without the exceptions. Three Republicans joined six Democrats on the Medical Affairs Committee in refusing to advance the bill, which allowed the exceptions to be restored.
The "Fetal Heartbeat Protection from Abortion Act" would make almost all abortions illegal in South Carolina once fetal cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks after conception. The bill has always allowed an abortion if the mother's life is in danger.
The committee passed the measure Tuesday on a 9-6 vote — all Republicans voting for it and Democrats against it. Some Republicans have suggested senators never take up the bill, worrying the floor debate could rile voters in the upcoming elections.
Even with the rape and incest exceptions restored, the bill has faced an iffy future next year because some more moderate Republicans senators don't want to waste days fighting over it with Democrats. They've suggested that lawmakers should instead wait and see what happens with similar laws in other states, and move forward only if bans elsewhere withstand legal challenges.
Similar bills have passed in recent years in Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio. Missouri approved a ban on abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy and Alabama lawmakers simply outlawed all abortions. All of them remain tied up in courts.
South Carolina already had a similar abortion showdown in 2018 after Democratic Sen. Brad Hutto of Orangeburg, whose has fought for abortion rights for decades, altered a bill banning a specific type of abortion into a ban on almost all abortions and dared lawmakers to pass it. Moderate Republicans couldn't support the proposal, which failed. Democrats have added a seat since that election.
The "heartbeat" abortion bill passed the South Carolina House earlier this year after the rape and incest exceptions were added on the House floor following a speech by Rep. Nancy Mace, a Republican from Charleston who told for the first time how she was raped when she was a teen.
Gov. Henry McMaster enthusiastically supported a ban even before it was changed in the House. He has promised to sign the bill if it passes.
Sen. Richard Cash put the incest and rape ban back in the bill. Cash, a Republican from Powdersville, was elected in 2017 in a campaign promising to do all he could to end abortion.