By Harriet McLeod
CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - South Carolina lawmakers on Tuesday passed a key vote to approve a bill banning most abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy, when a fetus is not considered viable outside the mother's womb.
State senators voted to support the legislation, called the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, after adding exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. They also excluded conditions in which a baby would not likely live past birth.
The South Carolina Senate is scheduled to vote on final passage of the legislation on Wednesday. A legislative committee will then iron out differences in the versions passed by the Senate and the state House of Representatives, which earlier approved a measure without the added exceptions.
Governor Nikki Haley, a Republican, is expected to sign the final bill.
The Supreme Court has said abortion is legal until the fetus is considered viable or can survive outside the mother’s womb, usually around 24 weeks gestational age.
South Carolina law additionally restricts abortions in the third trimester of pregnancy unless the woman’s life or health is in jeopardy.
The new restriction would affect fewer than 30 women in South Carolina, noted critics, who oppose the measure as an intrusion on a woman's right to decide whether to carry a pregnancy to term.
"The reality is that abortion in later pregnancy is extremely rare and it usually happens in heartbreaking situations where a woman and her doctor need every medical option available," said Alyssa Miller, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.
Several other Republican-controlled statehouses have also debated new abortion restrictions in recent weeks, part of a wave of anti-abortion laws advanced by conservative lawmakers seeking to chip away at the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 decision to legalize abortion in Roe v. Wade.
On Tuesday, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed into law a 48-hour waiting period before an abortion may be performed.
Legislation seeking to ban abortions at 20 weeks or another specific point in gestation was introduced this year in 13 states, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks reproductive policy.
The legislature in West Virginia in March overrode the Democratic governor's veto to ban abortions after 20 weeks.
(Editing by Letitia Stein and Eric Walsh)