South Carolina on cusp of having tougher abortion law

AP News
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Posted: Mar 09, 2016 7:27 PM

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina is on the cusp of passing a bill prohibiting nearly all abortions past 19 weeks of pregnancy, making it the latest of 15 states to pass restrictive bans whose constitutionality has yet to be ruled on by the U.S. Supreme Court.

A compromise approved Tuesday by the Senate allows exceptions to the ban only if the mother's life is in jeopardy or the fetus can't survive outside the womb. That was crucial for passage in the Senate, where Democrats had blocked the legislation for years.

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.

"I can live with it," House Judiciary Chairman Greg Delleney, a Republican, said of the compromise worked out over the past year. He likened abortion at five months gestation and beyond to "infanticide."

The bill is among several fronts abortion rights supporters say make having the procedure tougher. Abortion opponents have also passed laws requiring clinics to get admitting privileges for doctors and banning a procedure commonly used in the second trimester, known as an evacuation method.

In Florida on Wednesday, legislators passed a bill that would prohibit public money from going to Planned Parenthood, among a host of other new restrictions.

Delleney, one of the South Carolina Legislature's staunchest abortion foes, expects the GOP-led House to give final approval and send the bill to Gov. Nikki Haley's desk in the coming weeks. The Republican is expected to sign it, though her office has not said whether she will.

Supporters of the South Carolina bill believe a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks. Opponents argue such abortions involve wanted pregnancies that go horribly wrong, and that's not for politicians to decide.

The ban would affect only hospitals as the three abortion clinics in South Carolina do not provide abortions beyond 18 weeks.

On average, fewer than 30 abortions yearly are performed at 20 weeks gestation or beyond. Most of the women are white, married and older than 24, according to data dating to 1990 from the state's public health agency.

The laws are in effect in 12 states. They've been blocked wherever they've been challenged.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down both Idaho's and Arizona's versions. Georgia state court blocked enforcement of that state's 20-week ban in 2012, according to the institute.

Without citing a reason, the U.S. Supreme Court declined in January 2014 to hear an appeal from Arizona — which had banned abortion at 18 weeks past fertilization.

"This conflict is still hanging around and hasn't been resolved," said Elizabeth Nash, of the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights group.

Opponents believe the laws are unconstitutional but challenging them is impractical, since abortion clinics typically don't provide late-term abortions and women don't want to go through the trauma.

Under the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling establishing a nationwide right to abortion, states were permitted to restrict abortions after viability — the point when the fetus has a reasonable chance of surviving under normal conditions outside the uterus. The ruling offered no legal definition of viability, saying it could range between 24 and 28 weeks into a pregnancy.

Over the decades since, viability has been creeping earlier and can be different for each pregnancy, but there's no record of a successful birth before 23 weeks, said Kate Connors, spokeswoman for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

That would be roughly 21 weeks for anti-abortion activists. Many of the laws, as well as the South Carolina measure, specify the count starts at fertilization. But doctors say that date can't be scientifically pinpointed.

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This story corrects the number of weeks in the ninth paragraph from 14 to 18.