COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The South Carolina Senate is gearing up for a final vote on a near-total abortion ban that the Republican-controlled chamber has repeatedly rejected over the past year.

Lawmakers have less than three weeks left to pass any new restrictions in a legislative session that began days after the state’s highest court overturned a 2021 ban and followed a contentious special session last year that resulted in no new abortion laws.

The legislative impasse has persisted. The Senate already passed a ban that would take effect when cardiac activity is detected, as early as six weeks and before many people realize they are pregnant. The proposal is at odds with a near-total ban with limited exceptions that cleared the GOP-dominated House earlier this year.

The Senate voted 22-21 on Tuesday to give the House bill a second reading. The move sets the Senate up for a lengthy debate Wednesday over whether South Carolina should join the 14 other states that have banned abortion at all stages of pregnancy.

However, opponents can filibuster a bill at any time until at least 26 senators vote to sit the speaker down.

Those 26 votes have proven elusive for Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey when it comes to a near-total abortion ban. Five Republicans, including the Senate’s three GOP women, joined every Democrat in September to defeat a similar proposal. Republican Sen. Richard Cash again acknowledged that reality this February when he withdrew an amendment to match the House bill.

Massey prioritized the measure over all other contested bills with hopes that it might resolve the rift — either by passing it or by compelling the House to instead consider the Senate’s version.

“I’m trying to do whatever we can do to try to break the impasse. They wanted us to take up the bill. They wanted us to give it a vote. We’re going to do that. We’re going to try,” Massey told reporters Tuesday. “I don’t expect that any votes have changed. And if that is the case, then I would hope that the House would receive that message for what it is.”

Some of those GOP holdouts reiterated their opposition last week after a group that wants to ban all abortion sent them anatomical models of backbones with the message to “grow a spine” and vote for the House bill.

The same opponents failed Tuesday to amend the House bill and let voters decide whether the state constitution protects the right to an abortion. Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto said voters would decide the issue better than a 46-member chamber with just five women that does not reflect the gender diversity of the state.

Senate President Thomas Alexander ruled that turning the bill into a joint resolution violated the chamber’s precedent.

“The precedent set was not set by a representative group of the people in our state,” Republican Sen. Sandy Senn responded.

“It’s time for us to put this matter to bed,” she said, noting that Tuesday marked the third time in six months that senators have debated abortion.

The chambers have been searching for a response to a January state Supreme Court decision that left abortion legal through 22 weeks, although doctors say other strict regulations mean the state’s three clinics don’t typically provide abortions beyond the first trimester.

The developments have made the conservative state an unlikely destination for patients seeking abortion care in a region that has largely curtailed access.

Under the since-struck ban, South Carolina reported 204 abortions in July 2022, according to provisional data shared by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. Just 5.4% of those patients reportedly came from other states.

The numbers show that South Carolina has had over 900 abortions take place in each of the first three full months of this year. Nearly half of the patients hailed from other states.

Ashlyn Preaux said the abortion fund she helps run in the conservative Upstate region is serving more out-of-state patients than ever before. She told AP it is “cruel” that people must travel for “basic, reproductive health care.”

Providers also anticipate additional needs considering Florida’s governor recently signed a six-week ban into law and North Carolina Republicans are converging on tougher restrictions after recently securing veto-proof majorities in both legislative chambers.

Dr. Katherine Farris, the chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, told AP that the state is “certainly better off” than many neighbors but “it is an absolute overstatement to say that abortion is freely accessible in South Carolina.” Any new ban would compound state regulations that she said continue to hinder access in a state with only three abortion clinics.

Citing the rising numbers, Massey said Tuesday that the General Assembly cannot end session on May 11 without sending new restrictions to the Republican governor.

Meanwhile, the retirement of one state Supreme Court justice who voted this January with a 3-2 majority to strike the 2021 law has given anti-abortion groups hope that a new ban might stand.

Holly Gatling, the executive director of South Carolina Citizens for Life, told the AP earlier this month that lawmakers have “plenty of time” to solve what she called a “moral crisis.” Her organization supports the House ban but she has urged lawmakers to pass a bill “that will save as many children as can be saved.”