By Holly Gatling, Executive Director, South Carolina Citizens for Life
COLUMBIA, S.C. (Wednesday, May 17, 2023) – By a vote of 82-33, the South Carolina House of Representatives passed the Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act (S474) after nearly 24 hours of debate in a special legislative session called by Governor Henry McMaster. The second reading vote occurred at 9:20 p.m. The House then adjourned for 15 minutes in order to come back for the third and final reading.
“Today we achieved a victory for life in South Carolina,” said Representative John McCravy, R-Greenwood, president of the House Family Caucus. “This bill is the best pro-life bill we can pass in South Carolina at this moment in time.” The new law “will not only save thousands of lives, it will prevent South Carolina from becoming a destination state for abortion.”
Currently Florida and Georgia have fetal heartbeat protection laws making South Carolina a destination state for abortions up to 20 weeks of gestation. North Carolina’s abortion law has a three-day waiting period that also drives abortion traffic into South Carolina where the waiting period is 24 hours.
Earlier in the evening, Representative McCravy spoke emotionally for passage of the bill saying it will save thousands of babies’ lives that currently are being ended for birth control. He denounced the pro-abortion argument that abortion is “health care.”
“To kill the unborn baby for financial reasons, that’s not health care,” Representative McCravy said. “To take the life of an unborn child for a lack of insurance, that’s not health care. To take the life of an unborn child if it has sickle cell anemia, that’s not health care. If the mother is in a bad relationship with a man, if our religion is okay with killing babies, that’s not health care.”
Representative McCravy said he believes the State Senate, where the bill originated, will agree with the House changes. If the Senate agrees with the House, S474 will head to Governor McMaster’s desk for his signature.
During the special session, the House lobby and balcony have been filled with pro-life supporters from around South Carolina. They displayed colorful stickers with the message “PASS S474” surrounding a red heart with a heartbeat symbol running through it. The bill is strongly supported by South Carolina Citizens for Life, the Catholic Diocese of Charleston, Palmetto Family, the South Carolina Baptist Convention, and the numerous pregnancy care centers around the state, among others.
South Carolina Citizens for Life President Lisa Van Riper was present Wednesday at the State House. She said, “The Republicans continue to stand firm in defending the heartbeats of the smallest little ones in South Carolina. I have never been prouder of the resolve of the Republican Caucus as they undertake fulfilling government’s most basic role — the protection of innocent human life.”
Diocesan spokesman Michael Acquilano said, “South Carolina is a pro-life state. It is time for our laws to reflect it. The Catholic Church thanks the House leadership for their dedication and perseverance through the floor debate. We thank the House for passing strong lifesaving legislation, and for giving a voice to the most vulnerable among us- unborn babies. The Catholic Church is committed to serving all women and families in need of support and love in South Carolina.”
House members entered the second day of debate Wednesday. The first vote taken at 12:56 p.m. on Tuesday set the tone for the entire debate. By a vote of 76-27, an impressive and insurmountable 49-vote margin, the full House adopted the pro-life House Judiciary
Amendment. Then the debate began on the next 1,000 amendments intended to thwart final passage.
House Democrats acknowledged they could not defeat the pro-life legislation, so they used their only legislative weapon against the unborn – 1,000 amendments intended to weaken the law that protects unborn children with a detectable heartbeat.
All day Wednesday, pro-life lawmakers methodically staved off the pro-abortion amendments, motions to adjourn, and other tactics to delay passage of the life-saving measure. The pro-life votes were consistently in the 70s and pro-abortion votes in the 20s boding well for final passage.
Last Thursday (May 11), House Speaker Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, told the House members in no uncertain terms that during the special session, the House will work without stopping until “we get through that bill and have a final vote.”
The Speaker disallowed hundred of amendments calling them “dilatory” under the House Rule 8.3 that states in part, “No dilatory motion or amendment shall be entertained by the Speaker.” Dilatory is defined as “for the purpose of delay.” He also threw out dozens of amendments that he described as “absurd.” For example, one amendment would have required that girls and women report their menstrual cycles to the government. Another would have required that “The Handmaids Tale” be taught in public schools. “The Handmaids Tale” is a story about a society in which women are enslaved for the purpose of producing children.
Amy Baker, SCCL lobbyist, said, “What an encouraging sight to witness pro-life South Carolinians today at the S.C. Statehouse who came from all over the state to pray and encourage our pro-life House majority,” she said. “The overwhelming sentiment among the group is that they’ll be here to support the fetal heartbeat bill until its passage.”
According to the State Department of Health and Environmental Control, there currently are 1,000 abortions per month occurring in the Palmetto State largely because of out-of-state abortion traffic. Enactment of the Fetal Heartbeat law would reduce the number of abortions occurring in South Carolina to 200-250 per month.