The South Carolina legislature on Tuesday passed a bill banning most abortions after 19 weeks of pregnancy unless the mother’s life was at risk, making it the 17th U.S. state to approve such a ban. The act passed after being stripped of exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest.
“I believe that life begins at conception and every step we can take to get back to that point is important,” the bill’s sponsor, Republican Representative Wendy Nanney said. “In my view and many others it’s inhumane to subject that baby to pain at 20 weeks.”
The ban allows exceptions only if the mother’s life is in jeopardy or a doctor determines the fetus can’t survive outside the womb. The measure’s limited definition of ‘fetal anomaly’ means it would be illegal to abort a fetus with a severe disability if the child could live. Such anomalies are generally detected around 20 weeks. The exception was crucial for the bill clearing the Senate, where Democrats had blocked the legislation for years.
Courts have overturned the bans in three states. South Carolina legislators borrowed the wording for that exception from Georgia, where the state court blocked enforcement of Georgia’s 20-week ban in 2012. The South Carolina Senate approved the bill in March. Sixteen other states have passed similar laws as conservatives seek to chip away at the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision to legalize abortion.
Critics have said the name of the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act goes against medical evidence showing that a fetus at 20 weeks cannot feel pain.
“This is a dangerous bill for South Carolina women…, made even more extreme by removing exceptions for victims of rape and incest,” Alyssa Miller, South Carolina director of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said in a statement.
“The reality is that abortion later in pregnancy is extremely rare and often takes place in complex and difficult situations where a woman and her doctor need every medical option available,” Miller said.
In Utah, a related law also signed in March requires doctors to provide anesthesia to a fetus at least 20 weeks in the womb.
The South Carolina legislation will now head to Gov. Nikki Haley’s desk. The Republican said in March she will almost certainly sign it, but wants to look at the details once it reaches her.