The South Carolina House of Representatives passed a ban on abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation Wednesday, advancing the bill to the state senate and making South Carolina one of three states actively pursuing 20-week bans this year.
The bill, HB 4223, passed overwhelmingly on an 84-29 vote in the Republican-dominated chamber.
As RH Reality Check reported in February, the three stand-alone clinics in South Carolina already do not perform abortions after 14 weeks, which means the 20-week ban would only affect women seeking abortions in hospitals for medical reasons. The ban contains an exception to save the pregnant woman’s life, but not her health. A woman who discovers fatal fetal anomalies after 20 weeks, or a woman whose health is put at risk by her pregnancy but is not in immediate danger of dying, would have no recourse if this bill passed.
Twenty-week bans are widely considered to be unconstitutional because they ban abortion at a specific point in time before a fetus is viable outside the womb, which Roe v. Wade requires a doctor to determine, and which normally occurs around 24 weeks. Two states that have passed 20-week bans, Idaho and Georgia, are not currently enforcing them because the bans have been blocked by courts, and Arizona’s ban has been permanently struck down. That law actually banned abortions 20 weeks after a woman’s last menstrual period, which is two weeks earlier than the “20 weeks’ gestation” or “post-fertilization” language contained in most of these bills. Mississippi‘s proposed 20-week ban is similar to Arizona’s in that way.
Both South Carolina and Mississippi are seeking 20-week bans despite having no clinics within their borders that perform procedures that late, which could indicate that the laws are intended primarily as a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade. If the Fourth Circuit court upheld South Carolina’s ban, the Supreme Court might have to render a decision to clear up the discrepancy between that and the Ninth Circuit ruling striking down Arizona’s law.
West Virginia recently passed a 20-week abortion ban that awaits the governor’s signature, making it the first Democrat-controlled state legislature to do so.