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Fetal heartbeat bill looms before South Carolina Senate

Fetal heartbeat bill looms before South Carolina Senate

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Add the issue of abortion rights to the list of items South Carolina General Assembly members will attempt to tackle during the assembly's 2021 session. 

A subcommittee of the Senate Medical Affairs Committee will meet on Thursday to discuss a bill that would prevent a woman from getting an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected unless the woman is classified under certain medical exceptions. 

According to articles on Medical News Today and LiveScience, a fetal heartbeat usually begins around six weeks into a pregnancy. An article on What to Expect adds that the heart muscle begins to develop in the fourth week of a pregnancy and that the forming heart may begin to beat erratically within the fifth week of a pregnancy. 

Assuming that the ban would begin at the sixth week of pregnancy, the number of abortions would be lowered by about half. According to statistics from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, in 2019, there were 5,101 abortions − up from 4,646 in 2018 − approximately 45.5% of which are estimated to have occurred during the first six weeks of a pregnancy. About 53.9% of abortions in the state took place within 7 to 13 weeks. 

The bill was approved by the South Carolina House of Representatives during the 2020 session but stalled in the Senate because the Republican leadership didn't think it had the numbers to overcome a Democratic filibuster attempt. 

The concern of a Democratic filibuster is less of an issue headed into the 2021 session because the Republicans gained three Senate seats and one House seat in the 2020 general election. 

There is also pressure from conservative groups for the Senate to pass the bill. South Carolina's Conservative Future, a group founded by former Republican gubernatorial candidate John Warren, debuted a video and announced a digital campaign to encourage citizens to tell their senators to vote for the bill. 

Also, there is another bill, the South Carolina Stands for Life Act, that includes the fetal heartbeat bill along with provisions barring dismemberment abortions, requiring informed consent on chemical abortions, and that would instantly ban all abortions should the Supreme Court vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. 

Roe v. Wade was a 1973 Supreme Court decision that held that a complete ban on abortions was unconstitutional but that states may reasonably restrict access to abortions.  

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has said repeatedly that he would sign a bill approved by both chambers the minute it hits his desk. 

It is not known what would happen once the bill was signed by McMaster and the law went into effect.

A lawsuit from a pro-choice group would be a certainty if the bill goes into effect and that case would ultimately land in the Supreme Court. Currently, the Supreme Court is seen as having a 6 to 3 conservative majority but there have been discussions among the Democrats to expand the number of justices on the court. It's unlikely that this would happen before the 2022 mid-term elections (the majority is too close in the Senate) but could happen if the Democrats win more seats in the mid-terms. 

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Government and Politics Reporter

I cover the city of Florence, the county of Florence, the state legislative delegation of Florence County and surrounding areas, and the federal delegation representing the Pee Dee for the Morning News.

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