COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — After a dozen meetings and sessions over the summer and fall, South Carolina lawmakers are almost out of time to do something to change the state’s abortion laws during a special session prompted by the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
A conference committee of state senators and House members will meet one last time Wednesday morning to try to sort out a compromise between the House, which wants a near-total abortion ban, and the Senate, which wants to tweak the current law that amounts to a ban about six weeks after conception.
The full Senate is set to meet an hour after the committee to consider anything that passes with the House set to go into session Thursday if anything gets through the Senate.
By law, this year’s General Assembly session ends Sunday. With the election of 124 House members earlier in the week, everything resets and all bills must start from the beginning of the legislative process in January.
South Carolina’s current roughly six-week ban isn’t being enforced as the state Supreme Court is considering a challenge that it violates the right to privacy in the state constitution.
That leaves an older, 20-week abortion ban in place but no clinics in the state perform the procedure more than 14 weeks after conception.
Both sides left the last conference committee meeting Nov. 1 in doubt they can get any bill to the governor’s desk in 2022.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey told the committee there aren’t enough votes in the Senate to pass an abortion ban earlier than the present law, which prevents the procedure after cardiac activity can be detected in a fetus except for pregnancies caused by rape or incest, or if the life of the mother is in danger.
House members had a chance to accept the Senate’s version when they met in October, but rejected it. The Senate’s bill isn’t a total ban, but supporters said it solves the possible right-to-privacy argument, cuts the time that victims of rape and incest who become pregnant can seek an abortion from 20 weeks to about 12 weeks and requires that DNA from the aborted fetus be collected for police.
Supporters of the stricter ban in the House said voters made it clear they wanted action when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade this summer and left abortion laws up to the state. Republican senators who are against a total ban either want to take time to see the effects of stricter bans in other states or first want to expand adoption, social and educational programs to take care of more babies.
Democrats have largely stayed quiet during the debate, letting the Republicans fight among themselves and pulling in more moderate senators. They said people who support women’s rights were going to lose no matter what happened because the state’s abortion rules are so restrictive.