Last week a South Carolina house committee discussed a ban on abortions starting at
20 weeks post-fertilization.
The bill, HB 4223, was introduced last May and has 34 Republican co-sponsors. Committee members told the Post and Courier that they expect the bill to advance after they reconvene to hear more testimony, possibly as early as next week.
The three stand-alone abortion clinics in South Carolina already do not provide abortions after 14 weeks, Sloane Whelan, South Carolina director of public affairs with Planned Parenthood Health Systems, told RH Reality Check. This means that the 20-week ban would only affect women seeking later abortions in hospitals.
“More often than not, later-term abortions are happening with very wanted pregnancies where these women are facing really tragic situations, in many cases fatal fetal anomalies where the fetus wouldn’t survive outside the womb,” Whelan said. She noted that tests for such anomalies are typically not done until after 20 weeks, and that only about 1 percent of abortions are performed after 20 weeks nationwide.
The proposed ban provides no exception for rape or incest, which the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Wendy Nanney (R-Greenville), claimed are not necessary because most pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest are aborted prior to 20 weeks. The bill only has a narrow exception to save the life of the pregnant woman, but not to preserve her health or in case of fetal anomaly.
Whelan called the bill “unconscionable” because women facing health risks from an abnormal pregnancy caught too late would be denied needed care. She anticipates an “extremely difficult fight” against the bill in the house subcommittee.
Victoria Middleton, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina, testified in the hearing that the bill is unconstitutional because it bans abortions pre-viability, which is forbidden by Roe v. Wade and subsequent Supreme Court decisions. That precedent also requires exceptions for the health or life of the pregnant woman, but this bill provides no health exception.
The South Carolina Section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists opposes HB 4223 because it is “not based on sound science,” making false assertions that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks and using the medically inaccurate terms “unborn child” and “post-fertilization age.” Pregnancies are typically dated using the date of the woman’s last menstrual period.
“Dating using date of fertilization is not medical practice, and highlights how legislators should leave medical care to health care providers,” Dr. Lin-Fan Wang, a reproductive health advocacy fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, told RH Reality Check in an email, adding that such language “would be highly confusing for doctors who are trying to comply.”
Ten states have enacted 20-week abortion bans, and bans in three other states (Arizona, Georgia, and Idaho) are not in effect due to court challenges. New 20-week ban legislation has also been introduced this year in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Maryland.