COLUMBIA, S.C. — A bill banning abortion in South Carolina beyond 19 weeks of pregnancy advanced Tuesday to the House floor, with supporters hoping it eventually heads to a courtroom.
The House Judiciary Committee voted 13-8 to advance the proposal, which provides an exception only when a mother's life is in danger. Even then, a doctor must end the pregnancy in a way that gives the fetus the best chance for survival. Doctors who disregard the ban could be charged with a felony.
Rep. Wendy Nanney, the main sponsor, said she is not concerned that a federal court has declared a similar bill in Arizona unconstitutional.
Supporters actually welcome a challenge, saying a more conservative federal circuit would handle South Carolina's proposed ban, possibly ruling in the state's favor and creating a discrepancy between lower court rulings that the U.S. Supreme Court would have to resolve. Last month, the nation's high court declined to reconsider the ruling on Arizona's law by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Opponents argued such a legal fight wastes taxpayers' money.
"Aren't we promoting unnecessary spending of tax dollars?" asked Rep. Ronnie Sabb, D-Greeleyville. "To unnecessarily put forth taxpayer dollars flies in the face of logic."
The committee removed from the bill a clause establishing a special fund to pay for any legal battle. Nanney said the provision wasn't necessary because it is the attorney general's job to defend the state.
Nanney, R-Greenville, and a mother of five, and other supporters say the bill is about protecting children from pain. The bill asserts that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks. But opponents, including the South Carolina chapter of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said that is in dispute, with other reviews finding that a fetus does not feel pain before 24 weeks.
Other opponents include the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood.
They say such late-term abortions are rare and generally occur in wanted pregnancies that go horribly wrong. According to Planned Parenthood, its South Carolina clinics don't provide abortions beyond 19 weeks, meaning the bill affects only those performed in a hospital.
"Abortion is a deeply personal, often complicated decision for a woman to make," said Melissa Reed, spokesman for Planned Parenthood Health Systems. "These decisions should be made by a woman in consultation with her doctor, her family, and her faith — not by politicians."
According to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, 25 abortions were performed in South Carolina at 20 or more weeks' gestation in 2012, the latest data available.
Other states with 20-week bans include Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Texas. The 9th Circuit's ruling on Arizona's is binding only in its nine-state territory, which includes Idaho.