4 bills critics say attempt abortion ban up for debate

jself@thestate.comMarch 12, 2014 

— Four bills that critics say would ban abortion in South Carolina are up for debate Thursday before state Senate panels.

Critics say one of the proposals would regulate abortion providers out of business. Another would give embryos the same constitutional rights as people. A third would allow pregnant women to defend themselves with lethal force if they fear imminent harm to them or their unborn children.

Three of the bills are sponsored by state Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, one of six Republicans running against U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in June’s GOP primary.

Bright said “a lot of folks making phone calls” helped convince the committee chairmen controlling the bills to schedule a hearing on them.

Bright’s bill requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges to hospitals stalled in subcommittee last year after opponents said abortion clinics would be forced to close if hospitals, wary of being associated with them, declined doctors those privileges. The panel’s chairman, Ray Cleary, R-Georgetown, called the proposal a back-door attempt to ban abortion in the state.

On Wednesday, Cleary said he will advance the bill from committee at the request of state Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, who chairs the Medical Affairs Committee. But he still does not support it.

“I don’t think you change people’s behavior legislatively” by making it more difficult to get access to an abortion, Clearly said, adding women could seek other avenues to get an abortion, such as going to other states. “When someone says this benefits the woman and her health by having it done this way, it quite easily could have the opposite effect.”

Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the three abortion-related bills that he assigned to a subcommittee had lingered without a hearing, so he decided, in all fairness, to give them one.

State Sen. Katrina Shealy said she was surprised to hear her bill – called the ‘Pregnant Women’s Protection Act” – is being criticized for attempting to ban abortion. Her intent only was to extend to pregnant women the right to stand their ground, using lethal force to defend themselves or their unborn children, she said.

Victoria Middleton with the American Civil Liberties Union said if that is Shealy’s intent, then her proposal is unnecessary because the state already has laws that allow for self-defense.

Shealy’s bill also defines “unborn child” as “the offspring of human beings from conception until birth,” one way anti-abortion activists try to ban abortion, critics say.

But that “personhood” strategy has other consequences, said Melissa Reed, a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman. A bill granting a fertilized egg the same rights as people could impact thousands of other laws, she said, “from when property rights are granted to inheritance rights to access to the courts.”

State Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, who chairs the panel that will take up Shealy’s and Bright’s bills, said he questions whether the “personhood” bills would achieve what they intend legally.

Campsen said he would pass a bill to overturn Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that guarantees abortion rights, if he could. “However, I have yet to be convinced that it is a viable litigation strategy,” he said.

The alternative is passing a law that could lead to immediate and costly legal challenges for the state, Campsen and others said.

Even if some of the bills make it out of committee, they face a tough battle in the Senate where a single lawmaker can block a bill. Illustrating the point, Cleary said of Bright’s bill, “If it passes the full committee, there will be (an objection) put on it and probably 800 amendments.”

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