COLUMBIA -- The S.C. House gave key approval Tuesday to a bill that increases to 24 hours the time women must wait between having an ultrasound and getting an abortion.
Current state law requires a one-hour wait.
An amendment to exempt women who have been raped from the waiting period failed as did an amendment to protect the jobs of women who must take time off work for the procedure.
Republican legislators powered the bill through the House over the opposition of Democrats by a 83-28 vote.
After a third, largely ceremonial approval, the bill will go to the state Senate, where abortion rights' advocates said they have a better chance of winning a compromise.
House Republicans said they hoped the bill will encourage more women to continue their pregnancies.
"If this bill will save one life, if this bill will save one unborn child, how can we say no to a 24-hour waiting period?" asked Rep. Phil Owens, R-Pickens. "It's only important if you consider God's creations important."
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Greg Delleney, R-Chester, said the bill is a minor change but brings South Carolina into alignment with about half the states, which have longer waiting periods.
"This is a very simple bill. It changes law very little," Delleney said. "All this does is give a patient an opportunity of reflection for 24 hours."
Delleney said he chose a 24-hour period because the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld it as a reasonable time frame.
State law does not require a woman seeking an abortion to get an ultrasound. But most clinics use them, Delleney said.
Democrats unsuccessfully introduced a series of amendments, including one by state Rep. James Smith of Richland County to allow the 24-hour waiting period to begin once a woman gets information about the abortion procedure and alternatives. This information could be mailed to the woman, meaning she would only need to make one visit to an abortion clinic.
Only three clinics in South Carolina -- in Columbia, Charleston and Greenville -- perform abortions.
Smith argued requiring two visits to a distant clinic is unfair, particularly in a state where people are struggling to hang onto their jobs and grappling with the recession.
"If you are living in Allendale, working for a living, there are three facilities in the state that will perform these procedures," Smith said. "You will have to leave your home, miss work, go to one of these facilities, have an ultrasound taken, go home to where you live and come back the next day."
Abortion rights advocates say the bill is sexist, wrongly assuming women do not reflect on whether to have an abortion.
"Yet again, today the S.C. House showed that it has very little concern for the health care rights of the women of South Carolina," said Marie Louise Ramsdale, founder of the S.C. Reproductive Health PAC. "This is clearly a political move designed to garner votes and in no way reflects the attitude of the majority of South Carolinians on abortion policy."
Other Democrats argued the House of Representatives, made up of 107 men and 17 women, should take a stand for women's rights. The S.C. Senate has no female members.
"It is unfortunate that we have an almost all-boys club who is forcing an issue down females' throats," said Rep. Leon Howard, D-Richland.
The House on Tuesday also passed a second bill Delleney introduced, a state version of the federal Right to Life Act. It requires doctors to save babies who survive abortions.