(CN) – The South Carolina state Senate voted Thursday to pass a bill restricting abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, effectively outlawing most abortions.
The “South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act” passed in a 30-13 vote. The bill now returns to the state House for a final vote, where it’s likely to pass.
The legislation requires doctors to try to find a heartbeat using an ultrasound if they believe a woman is at least eight weeks pregnant.
Once a heartbeat is found, an abortion can only be performed if the mother’s life is in danger or if the pregnancy resulted from 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 bans abortions after 20 weeks.
The bill would subject doctors to felony charges and up to two years in prison if they fail to check for a heartbeat or detect one and perform an abortion anyway.
The legislation passed the state House Wednesday in a 29-17 vote. Republican Governor Henry McMaster has repeatedly said he will sign the bill once it lands on his desk.
Republican lawmakers in the state Senate have tried to pass similar legislation restricting abortion in previous years. After winning three seats from Democrats in the November election, they finally had the numbers to defeat a filibuster.
State Senator Sandy Senn of Charleston was the only Republican to oppose the bill, and state Senator Kent Williams of Marion was the only Democrat to support it.
Ilyse Hogue, president of the abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America, called the bill “cruel” in a statement Thursday.
“As thousands of South Carolinians struggle in the midst of a still-raging pandemic, Republicans in the state Senate remain hell-bent on denying people the fundamental freedom to determine their own lives, destinies, and futures,” she said.
“Politicians who claim to be ‘pro-life’ yet endanger the health and lives of their constituents to pursue an extreme ideological agenda are as hypocritical as they come. In their estimation, if the collateral damage happens to be the actual lives, health, and well-being of women and families, so be it.”
Similar bills have passed in other states but were immediately challenged in court by civil rights groups. A nearly identical bill passed by the Georgia state Legislature was struck down by a federal judge last year.
Kansas lawmakers passed a measure Wednesday that will allow voters to decide if abortion is a right guaranteed by the state’s constitution. The measure is a reaction from the Republican-held Legislature to a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling that found abortion to be a right under state law. The proposed constitutional amendment will be voted on in 2022.
Activists on both sides of the issue are waiting to see if the U.S. Supreme Court rules any of the bans are constitutional, especially in light of the court’s new conservative majority.
"If this gets upheld by the courts, we will have saved thousands of lives in South Carolina every year. That is a tremendous victory," state Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey said.
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