South Carolina senators rejected a ban on almost all abortions Thursday in a special session called in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade after five Republicans, including all the chamber's women, refused to support it.
The 30 Republicans in the 46-member chamber had a majority to pass the ban, but did not have the extra votes to end a threatened filibuster by Republican Sen. Tom Davis.
Davis, the chief of staff for former Gov. Mark Sanford before being elected to the Senate in 2009, was joined by the three Republican women in the Senate, a fifth GOP colleague and all Democratic senators to oppose the proposed ban.
Davis said he promised his daughters he would not vote to make South Carolina’s current six-week abortion ban stricter because women have rights, too.
“The moment we become pregnant we lost all control over what goes on with our bodies,” Davis said, recalling what his daughters told him. “I’m here to tell you I’m not going to let it happen.
After a recess to work through their options, Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey conceded the abortion ban likely couldn't pass.
“We were never going to pass a total abortion ban," Massey said. “We never had the votes to pass even what the House passed.”
Senators did pass a few changes to the six-week ban, including cutting the time that victims of rape and incest who become pregnant can seek an abortion from 20 weeks to about 12 weeks and requiring that DNA from the aborted fetus be collected for police. The bill goes back to the House, which passed a ban with exceptions for rape or incest.
South Carolina's six-week ban is currently suspended as the state Supreme Court reviews whether it violates privacy rights. In the meantime, the state’s 2016 ban on abortions 20 weeks after conception is in effect.
South Carolina's General Assembly was meeting in a special session to try to join more than a dozen other states with abortion bans.
Most of them came through so-called trigger laws designed to outlaw most abortions when the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the constitutional right to end a pregnancy in June. Indiana's Legislature passed a new ban last month that has not taken effect.
The debate started Wednesday with the three Republican women in the South Carolina Senate speaking back to back, saying they couldn't support the bill unless the rape or incest exceptions were restored.
Sen. Katrina Shealy said the 41 men in the Senate would be better off listening to their wives, daughters, mothers, granddaughters and looking at the faces of the girls in Sunday School classes at their churches.
“You want to believe that God is wanting you to push a bill through with no exceptions that kill mothers and ruins the lives of children — lets mothers bring home babies to bury them — then I think you’re miscommunicating with God. Or maybe you aren’t communicating with Him at all,” Shealy said before senators added a proposal allowing abortions if a fetus cannot survive outside the womb.
Massey helped broker the compromise among Republicans that briefly returned the exceptions to the bill. He pointed out state health officials recorded about 3,000 abortions in 2021 within the first six weeks of a pregnancy.
“Heartbeat is great, but this I think is better,” Massey said. ”I don’t think abortion should be used as birth control.”
Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto said Republican women stood up for all women in South Carolina, while Republican men let them down. He said Democrats didn't want any changes to current laws.
“There may be a sentiment that this is the same as what we already had. It’s not. It’s worse in many regards," Hutto said.
Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, who has said before he would be happy if there were no abortions in the state, thought the Senate version struck an appropriate balance, governor's spokesman Brian Symmes said
“It is the governor’s hope that the House and Senate will soon come to an agreement and send a bill to his desk for signature,” Symmes said.
Republican Sen. Sandy Senn, who didn't vote for the six-week ban in 2021, said a total ban would be an invasion of the privacy against every woman in the state.
“If what is going on in my vagina isn’t an unreasonable invasion of privacy for this legislature to get involved in, I don’t know what is,” Senn said.