South Carolina Senate passes bill that would ban most abortions

The South Carolina Senate on Thursday passed a bill that would outlaw almost all abortions in the state, overcoming years of hurdles thanks to Republicans winning new seats in last year's elections.

Comes as Biden reverses Trump rule barring U.S. foreign aid from being used to perform or promote abortion

A woman dressed in a costume from 'The Handmaid's Tale' silently protests during a rally to maintain abortion rights, Tuesday, May 21, 2019, in front of the Statehouse in Columbia, S.C. A bill banning most abortions in the state passed the Senate Thursday. (Jeffrey Collins/The Associated Press)

The South Carolina Senate on Thursday passed a bill that would outlaw almost all abortions in the state, overcoming years of hurdles thanks to Republicans winning new seats in last year's elections.

The 30-13 vote is likely the final hurdle for the bill. It has passed the House easily in previous years and Gov. Henry McMaster has repeatedly said he will sign it as soon as he can.

The Senate labelled the bill No. 1 and made it the first major issue they took up in the 2021 session.

Democrats said that was shameful because South Carolina has many more pressing problems, including more than 6,000 people dead from COVID-19. It has never expanded Medicaid or raised the minimum wage and perpetually has an education system that ranks toward the bottom of the nation, said Democratic Sen. Margie Bright Matthews of Walterboro.

"What have we done for the living," she said.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Cash reintroduces personhood legislation in February 2019, inside the lobby of the Statehouse. Republicans in the state won three seats from Democrats in the 2020 elections and now have a 30-16 seat advantage. (Christina Myers/The Associated Press)

Similar bills in other states tied up in courts

The South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act requires doctors to use an ultrasound to try to detect a fetal heartbeat if they think pregnant women are at least eight weeks along.

If they find a heartbeat, and the pregnancy is not the result of rape or incest, they can't perform the abortion unless the mother's life is in danger.

Similar bills have passed in about a dozen other states but are tied up in courts. Both abortion rights advocates and opponents are waiting to see if the U.S. Supreme Court weighs in and rules any of the stricter bans are constitutional, especially since former president Donald Trump was able to name three justices.

In the Bible Belt, South Carolina led the fight for stricter rules on abortions during the 1980s and 1990s. The state's current law bans abortions after 20 weeks and was once a conservative model.

But in recent years, states from Alabama to Ohio have passed restrictions that ban nearly all abortions because most women don't know they are pregnant before about six weeks, when a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

And in Kansas Thursday, Republican legislators put a proposed anti-abortion amendment to the state constitution on the ballot for the state's August 2022 primary election.

The Senate approved the measure 28-11, giving abortion opponents one more vote than the two-thirds majority they needed. The House approved the same measure last week. Approval by a simple majority of voters would change the Kansas Constitution.

The measure would not be an abortion ban, but it would allow lawmakers to enact one if the nation's highest court were to overturn its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision protecting abortion rights.

The path for the bill cleared in South Carolina thanks in part to Trump. The divisive presidential race energized Republicans, who won three seats from Democrats in the 2020 elections and their new 30-16 advantage finally pushed the effort over a procedural hurdle that stopped the bill for years.

"Thank God for the people of this state," said Republican Sen. Larry Grooms of Bonneau, who has been fighting to end abortion for 24 years.

U.S. President Joe Biden signs a series of executive orders on health care Thursday, including one to reverse a regulation that barred U.S. foreign aid from being used to perform or promote abortions. (Evan Vucci/The Associated Press)

Biden reverses regulation affecting global abortion access

The bill passed on the same day U.S. President Joe Biden rescinded a regulation that barred U.S. foreign aid from being used to perform or promote abortions.

His decision, while expected, was cheered by pro-choice advocates and some humanitarian groups and denounced by anti-abortion groups.

Biden's move fulfils a campaign pledge to reverse a policy that previous Republican presidents, including Trump, have instated immediately upon taking office.

Critics of that policy, called the Global Gag Rule, say it hurts women's reproductive health care and contributes to poverty worldwide. Supporters argue it is essential to preserve the sanctity of life.

Trump had expanded the rule to include nearly all federal health funding, but its effects were felt most abroad, where U.S. assistance can be an essential part of a country's health-care spending.

Although supporters of the policy argue that the overall amount of U.S. health care aid was not affected, critics maintained it contributed to a rise in pregnancy-related complications as well other issues by forcing some clinics to reduce broader health services, including for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other infectious diseases, if they wanted to retain funding.

Swift reaction from both sides

Reaction to Biden's decision was swift and sharp, even before it was officially announced. Abortion-rights groups and Democratic lawmakers hailed it as key to improving women's lives, while anti-abortion groups denounced it as immoral and unnecessary.

"The Global Gag Rule has had a sweeping effect on lifesaving health care in some of the most vulnerable parts of the world," said Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, the only woman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"It is shameful that the Trump administration chose to not only implement but exponentially expand this ill-conceived policy to historic proportions."

She called it "an important first step to restore access to family planning services and mitigate the damage caused by an administration that pursued this dangerous policy without regard for its impact."

Doctors Without Borders, which has spoken out against the policy, welcomed the move but said more must be done to address the global health care crisis.

"While we are relieved to see a halt to this dangerous policy, there is much more work to do to mitigate the damage we have witnessed. Rescinding the Global Gag Rule is just a first step," it said.

"Millions of women still don't have access to safe abortion care because of restrictive laws, cost, stigma, a lack of trained providers, or other unnecessary barriers, such as mandatory waiting periods or misleading information."

Anti-abortion groups were equally as strident in the condemnation.

"Funneling U.S. tax dollars to abortion groups overseas is an abhorrent practice that flies in the face of the 'unity' Joe Biden and Kamala Harris promised to inspire," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which seeks to elect anti-abortion candidates to Congress and other offices.

Echoing the comments of others, she blasted the Biden administration for once again allowing taxpayer money to fund abortions, maintaining the move was payback for a group of "abortion industry giants" that support the president's campaign for president.

"Pushing abortion on other nations is not compassion, it is ideological neo-colonization," said Lila Rose of Live Action, a national anti-abortion group. "This decision is a dark day for our nation — it will lead to more deaths of more children and for that, Joe Biden should be ashamed."