COLUMBIA — A state Senate panel advanced legislation Thursday that opponents warn could outlaw abortion and emergency contraception in South Carolina. The panel also took testimony on a separate bill that would outlaw all abortions and most contraception by giving legal rights to fertilized eggs.
The Judiciary Subcommittee approved 3-2 the “Pregnant Women’s Protection Act,” which states a pregnant woman has a right to use deadly force to defend her unborn child from any threat. Supporters said it is needed even though state law already gives residents the right to use deadly force against an attacker wherever they are if they fear for their lives or someone else’s.
Sen. Greg Hembree, a co-sponsor, said a pregnant woman being punched in the stomach, for example, may not be covered by current law.
But Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, opposed the bill as redundant.
Other opponents called the bill, based on model legislation by Americans United for Life, a back-door attempt to stop abortions, pointing to language that defines an unborn child as “the offspring of human beings from conception until birth.” They worry it could also outlaw contraception.
“No one disputes that violence against pregnant women is a concern in our state and few would deny the need for swift action to stop any instances of further violence,” said Emma Davidson, spokeswoman for South Carolina Coalition for Healthy Families. “But it is hypocritical to introduce legislation claiming to protect victims of domestic abuse, rape and violence while simultaneously outlawing emergency contraception, a key treatment option for those victims.”
A separate “Personhood Act” was discussed that would outlaw abortion outright by granting legal rights at conception. The subcommittee postponed a vote.
By defining life as starting with conception, Davidson said, the personhood bill would also outlaw birth control pills, emergency contraception, stem cell research and fertility treatments. Women who have a miscarriage or stillbirth could be criminally prosecuted, she said.
University of South Carolina family law professor Marcia Zug said the bill would ban abortions even in cases of rape, incest and when the mother’s life is in danger.
“A fetal personhood bill which would outlaw abortions in even the most life-threatening of circumstances has never been an option with the Supreme Court. It is clearly unconstitutional,” Zug said. Hembree, R-Myrtle Beach, said the bill is meant to challenge the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 decision legalizing abortion. He asked Zug for suggestions on how to amend the bill so it doesn’t have unintended consequences. She suggested the bill would have fewer problems if it defined life as after a fertilized egg is implanted in a woman’s uterus.
Brad Bates, associate minister at Legacy Church in Charleston, said he believes the 1973 ruling could be overturned.
“The unborn have become a platform for so-called women’s rights all the while ignoring the rights of the many would-be women in the wombs of their mothers,” he said. “With the advancement in technology and science, we now know with certainty that life begins at conception.”
The Republican primary ballot in June will ask voters whether they believe life and legal rights begin at conception.