COLUMBIA, S.C. (CN) — Seeking to prohibit most abortions in the state, the South Carolina House on Wednesday passed a bill that bans abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected.
The bill, titled the "South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act,” requires physicians to perform ultrasounds on women seeking an abortion. If the doctor detects a fetal heartbeat, an abortion can only be performed if the mother’s life is in danger or if the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest.
A fetal heartbeat can usually be detected at six weeks of pregnancy, before most women even know they are pregnant. South Carolina’s current law bars abortions after 20 weeks.
The measure would allow the state to charge a person who is found to have performed an abortion under the new law with a felony. Additionally, the doctor could be fined $10,000 and sentenced to up to two years in jail.
The bill had returned to the South Carolina House for a final vote on Wednesday after passing 30-13 in the state Senate last month.
“The S.C. Senate has made banning abortion their top priority in the face of the urgent health and economic crisis impacting families across the state,” Director of Affairs for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic Vicki Ringer said in a statement following the Jan. 28 Senate vote.
“As people continue to get sick and die from COVID-19 and more families are struggling to make ends meet, state leaders are ramming through legislation that poses a serious threat to people’s health, freedom and bodily autonomy,” she added, calling the measure “shameful.”
Nearly all of the Democratic members of the House walked out of the chamber in protest ahead of the 79-35 vote on Wednesday.
Republican state Representatives Jerry Carter and William Cogswell broke party ranks and voted against the bill.
The Republican-led state House will carry out a procedural vote on Thursday.
Then the bill will need to be approved by Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, who has already promised to sign off on the measure.
“Today is a historic day for life in South Carolina, and we’re looking forward to seeing Governor McMaster sign the Heartbeat Bill into law,” South Carolina GOP Chairman Drew McKissick said in a statement on Wednesday, adding, “On behalf of all the hundreds of thousands of grassroots conservatives who made their voices heard on November 3rd, we want to thank House leadership, especially Speaker Lucas, for getting us across the finish line.”
About a dozen Republican-led states have passed strict abortion measures similar to the latest one out of South Carolina, many of which were met with litigation from civil rights groups.
These abortion laws could be implemented if the U.S. Supreme Court, which has three Donald Trump-appointed newcomers, overturns the landmark 1973 decision Roe v. Wade.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.