Rape, incest exemptions fuel Carolina GOP abortion fight

COLUMBIA, SC (AP) — South Carolina’s upcoming Senate debate Wednesday on an abortion ban that will no longer include exemptions for pregnancies caused by rape and incest is likely to leave Republicans at odds.

On the one hand is a core group that sees every abortion as the end of a life. On the other are conservatives who have absorbed developments elsewhere since the overturning of Roe v. Wade and say they don’t want 14-year-old rape victims to be forced to give birth or to force a mother to bring to death a fetus that cannot live outside the womb.

Debate on the Senate floor is set to begin Wednesday morning. Senators have been told the process could take days, though they have recently tried to wrap up such discussions in marathon one-day sessions.

Democrats on the Senate Medical Affairs Committee helped create the showdown on Tuesday, refusing to vote as more conservative Republicans stripped exemptions for rape and incest from a bill that passed the House last week. And if the Senate approves the ban, it will go back to the House.

Democrats are not going to help Republicans out of their own box by making “a terrible bill a very bad bill,” Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto said.

The same bill without the exemptions appeared to fail in the more conservative state House last week before some Republicans maneuvered through a series of votes to allow abortions for rape and incest victims up to the 12th week of pregnancy.

The final vote at Tuesday’s committee meeting could foreshadow the closeness of any vote in the full Senate. The Medical Affairs Committee voted 9-8 with two Republicans joining all Democrats.

Democrats also refused to vote on other proposals from Republican Sen. Tom Davis, who has said for weeks that the bill must be modified from a full ban before he can support it.

They included assurances that a doctor can perform an abortion if a fetus is found to have a medical condition that will not allow it to live, as well as increasing access to contraceptives and including birth control as part of the state’s sex education-based in abstinence.

These ideas could be considered in the Senate along with a review of the rape and incest exemptions.

In a possible preview of the fight on the Senate floor, Davis clashed in the committee meeting with Republican Sen. Richard Kass, whose main focus during his five years in the Senate was ending all abortions.

“If you’re over 13, we expect you to have sex. We’re going to provide you with all the contraceptives you’re going to need,” Cash said of Davis’ proposal to make birth control available with parental consent. “It borders on encouraging immorality.”

Davis has said for weeks that if the state is going to ban nearly all abortions, it needs to make sure mothers get adequate prenatal care and that extra babies born get education and childcare help.

“You have a different view of the role of the state in society,” Davis replied to Cash. “I don’t look to the state to dictate what my ethics are.”

There are 30 Republicans and 16 Democrats in the state Senate.

The bill would ban all abortions in South Carolina unless the mother’s life is in danger. Before they were removed, the bill also included exemptions for pregnancies caused by rape and incest. In these cases, the doctor should tell the woman that the rape will be reported and her name given to the county sheriff within 24 hours of the procedure. The bill would only allow abortions in these cases up to 12 weeks after conception.

South Carolina currently has a ban on abortions once heart activity is detected in a fetus, which is usually around six weeks. But that law has been put on hold as the South Carolina Supreme Court considers whether it violates the state’s constitutional right to privacy. That leaves South Carolina’s earlier 20-week abortion ban as the current benchmark.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.

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