COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) — A panel of state Senators decided to move forward with a bill that would ban almost all abortions in South Carolina.

By a 3-2 vote, along party lines, the Senate Medical Affairs subcommittee gave a favorable report to the fetal heartbeat bill (S.1).

The bill as it stands would not allow an abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, unless the mother’s life is at risk. Doctors we spoke with said this is usually about six weeks into a pregnancy.

The fetal heartbeat bill is now headed to the full Senate Medical Affairs committee.

If the legislation is signed into law, the physician conducting the abortion would be charged with a felony and could face jail time and fines.

According to data from DHEC, in 2019 more than 2,500 reported abortions occurred after the six week mark in South Carolina.

Pro-life and pro-choice advocates testified before the subcommittee for more than 4 hours. Some of them in person and many virtually.

Supporters of the bill said South Carolina needs to follow the lead of other Southern states that have laws like this on the books, despite the potential legal challenges.

Dave Wilson is President and Executive Director of Palmetto Family Council. He said, “There are a lot of people who look at this issue as a women’s health issues. In reality, it’s a human rights issues.”

In 2019, the House passed a similar bill but it stalled in the Senate last year.

Critics of the possible abortion ban said they don’t think lawmakers should be taking up this bill while the state is struggling to control the COVID-19 pandemic. Sloan Wilson did not testify but went to the meeting to show her opposition to the legislation.

She said, “It’s clear the legislature does not have their priorities in check for whats happening in our state and country right now.”

Wilson with the Palmetto Family Council said, “Setting this as S.1 is a statement by Republicans that this is a priority they are going to be focused on getting across the finish line.”

He said with an increased Republican majority in the state Senate, the heartbeat bill has a better chance at passing than it did last year. Republicans gained three seats in the Senate this year.

Ann Warner with the South Carolina Women’s Rights Empowerment Network said a bill like this would not stop abortions from happening in South Carolina. She said the World Health Organization has concluded that restricting access to abortions does not reduce the number of abortions.

Warner said, “We’re really concerned that this seems to be the top priority for legislators right now, taking away healthcare from people.”

The full Senate Medical Affairs Committee could hold a meeting on this legislation next week and some say it could be debated on the Senate floor in a matter of weeks.

During his State of the State address Wednesday night, Governor Henry McMaster said if the General Assembly sent him a fetal heartbeat bill he would sign it into law immediately.