A South Carolina bill designed to ban abortions when an unborn baby’s heart starts beating moved ahead on Tuesday after the House Judiciary Committee voted 15-8 along party lines to advance the measure to the full state House.
Republicans supported the pro-life bill while Democrats voted against it. S.C. Rep. Mandy Kimmons, R-Dorchester, was not present to vote on the bill, and S.C. Rep. Ivory Thigpen, D-Richland, abstained from voting. Republicans turned back a variety of Democrat amendment designed to either kill the bill outright or weaken it.
With the state Senate already approving the measure, as long as the bill is passed on the House floor with no amendments requring a second Sneate vote the measure will head to pro-life Gov. Henry McMaster, who has promised to sign it into law.
The main sponsor of the bill, Rep. John McCravy, R-Greenwood, said during his explanation of the legislation that he expects the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn its 1973 abortion decision Roe v. Wade because of recent conservative justices added by former President Donald Trump.
“The Constitution in our nation has devolved into whatever nine justices say it means,” McCravy said.
South Carolina lawmakers have been trying to pass a heartbeat bill for years and, after Republicans gained seats in the state legislature in November, many hope 2021 will be the year. Gov. Henry McMaster and Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette both support the bill.
During a prior committee hearing, Evette said a detectable heartbeat is clear scientific evidence that unborn babies deserve protections under the law.
“If we’re using the heartbeat, as the scientific test for when our life ends, I think it only makes good common sense that we use it for determining when our life begins,” she told lawmakers. “As a mother, as a woman and as a leader in South Carolina, I think it’s important that I stand up to show my support.”
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The bill would prohibit abortions after an unborn baby’s heartbeat is detectable, typically about six weeks of pregnancy. Exceptions would be allowed for medical emergencies and risks to the mother’s life. Abortionists who violate the law could face a $10,000 fine or imprisonment for up to two years.
If enacted, the bill could save thousands of babies’ lives each year. The state health department reported more than 2,500 abortions after six weeks in 2019, according to the local news.
South Carolina Citizens for Life leaders praised lawmakers for prioritizing unborn babies and mothers in the new legislative session.
“Since the beginning of the pro-life movement in 1973, the most popular pro-life motto has been, ‘Abortion stops a beating heart.’ It is a scientifically accurate statement, not a political soundbite,” the pro-life organization said in a statement. “The Fetal Heartbeat Bill protects a pregnant woman’s right to know that her baby has a beating heart, and it protects the unborn members of our human family from death by abortion when the heartbeat can be detected.”
Meanwhile, abortion advocacy groups are lobbying against the legislation. The American Civil Liberties Union suggested it may sue the state if the bill passes.
“You are in charge of your body,” Susan Dunn, legal director of ACLU South Carolina, told News 19. “You are responsible for it. Nobody can make you do something with your body without your consent. That’s not Roe v. Wade, that’s not women’s rights, that’s a basic concept of humanity.”
A number of states have passed heartbeat laws in recent years, but most have been banned from enforcing them due to legal challenges by abortion activist groups. Other states with heartbeat laws include Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio and Tennessee. However, all of the states have been blocked from enforcing them by court orders.
Polls suggest many Americans support strong limits on abortion. A 2019 Hill-HarrisX survey found that 55 percent of voters said they do not think laws banning abortions after six weeks – when an unborn baby’s heartbeat is detectable – are too restrictive. Gallup polls also consistently have found that a majority of Americans think all or most abortions should be illegal.
Some pro-lifers have renewed hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will uphold an abortion ban and overturn Roe v. Wade. Others, however, are hesitant because of concerns about losing the court battle and being forced to reimburse pro-abortion groups for their legal fees.
Though the high court currently has a conservative majority, Chief Justice John Roberts, who was nominated by a Republican president, has sided with the liberal justices on a number of occasions.
In 1973, the Supreme Court took away the states’ ability to protect unborn babies from abortion under Roe v. Wade, and instead forced states to legalize abortion on demand. Roe made the United States one of only seven countries in the world that allows elective abortions after 20 weeks.