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Pee Dee lawmakers want more limits on abortions

January 20, 2019

FLORENCE, S.C. – Several Pee Dee state legislators are among the sponsors of an act that would prohibit, with certain medical exceptions, a woman from getting an abortion after a fetal heartbeat has been detected.

House Speaker Jay Lucas and Reps. Jackie “Coach” Hayes, Lucas Atkinson, Phillip Lowe and Jay Jordan are among the sponsors or co-sponsors of House Bill H. 3020, which would add the South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat Protection from Abortion Act to Title 44, Chapter 41 of the South Carolina Code and amend sections 44-41-460 and 44-41-330 of the code.

Sen. Greg Hembree is a sponsor of Senate Bill S 0032, which is identical to the House bill.

Why are Pee Dee legislators supporting the bill?

Lucas said he is pro-life and has consistently supported pro-life legislation since he had been in the House.

Hayes said he is involved with the bill because he does not believe in abortion.

Atkinson said he decided to sponsor the bill because it would legally protect unborn children whose heartbeats can be detected by a doctor. He also said the bill allows for health, safety and medical emergency exceptions. Atkinson added that there would be serious penalties for providers who violate the act and that the bill prevents the mother from criminal liability.

Lowe said there is nothing more important to protect than life.

Jordan said he believes the bill is a positive step toward making the state one of if not the most pro-life states in the nation. He sees it as another opportunity to stand up for life.

Hembree could not be reached for comment.

What would the bills do?

The bills would create the South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat Protection from Abortion Act, which would add 16 sections of law to South Carolina Code.

The first new section, 44-41-610, defines the terms used in the article. These definitions include contraception, contraceptive, fetal heartbeat, gestational age, gestational sac, human fetus, intrauterine pregnancy, medical emergency, physician, reasonable medical judgment and spontaneous miscarriage.

The second new section, 44-41-620, provides that the state’s attorney general may apply to a court to determine the constitutionality of the act if Roe v. Wade is modified by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Section 44-41-630 outlines the reasons for the act. Basically, the argument being made is that the detection of a fetal heartbeat is a key predictor as to whether the fetus will reach the point of a live birth.

Section 44-41-640 says the act would apply only to intrauterine pregnancies. Section 610 defines intrauterine pregnancy to mean “a pregnancy in which the human fetus is attached to the placenta within the uterus of the pregnant woman.”

Section 44-41-650 says the abortion provider or other qualified personnel shall perform an obstetric ultrasound on the pregnant woman, that the provider shall display the images so the woman can see them and that the provider record a written medical description of the images of the fetus’s cardiac activity if present.

The next section, 44-41-660, tells the abortion provider to inform the pregnant woman that the heartbeat of the fetus might be audible and ask if she would like to hear the heartbeat. The section also says that if the woman wants to hear the heartbeat, the provider shall make the heartbeat audible.

The next two sections, 670 and 680, provide that unless there is a medical emergency, no abortion can be performed before the ultrasound is performed. Section 670 also provides a penalty of a $10,000 fine or two years in jail if the section is violated. Section 680 also includes record keeping requirements of the doctor performing an abortion before the ultrasound during a medical emergency.

Section 690 says a physician is not in violation of the act if no heartbeat is detected.

Section 700 says no person shall attempt to perform an abortion on a pregnant woman if a fetal heartbeat is detected in accordance with Section 650. This section also carries penalties of $10,000 or two years in jail if violated.

Section 710 provides a medical emergency exemption to Section 700, and Section 720 provides an exception if no heartbeat is detected.

The next section, 730, relates the new abortion restrictions to the old. It basically prevents the courts from striking down all of South Carolina’s abortion restrictions by striking the new act.

Section 740 makes it clear that the act does not affect contraceptives.

The next section, 750, prevents a pregnant woman from being prosecuted under the act, and Section 760 provides civil remedies for affected pregnant women.

Two sections of law also would be amended. Section 44-41-460 would be amended to add the fetal heartbeat testing requirements, and 44-41-330 would be amended to add the informing of the pregnant woman of the fetal heartbeat.

Where is the bill now?

In the Senate, the bill is in the Committee on Medical Affairs. The committee is chaired by Daniel B. “Danny” Verdin III, the senator from District 9. District 9 includes southeastern Greenville and all of Laurens counties.

In the House, the bill has been referred to the Judiciary Committee. The Judiciary Committee is chaired by Peter M. McCoy Jr. McCoy is the representative from House District 115, which includes central Charleston County.

Are any Pee Dee legislators on these committees?

One Pee Dee area senator, Kevin Johnson, is on the Committee on Medical Affairs. Johnson represents Senate District 36, which includes two small parts of southwestern Florence, a portion of southeastern Darlington, eastern Sumter and all of Clarendon County.

Johnson said he was traveling and did not answer a follow-up phone call seeking comment.

Reps. Patricia Henegan, Cezar McKnight and Jordan are the Pee Dee House members on the Judiciary Committee.

McKnight said he is not in favor of the bill.

“While I’m personally averse to abortion, I just think that’s a decision that’s best to a woman,” McKnight said. “I think we have plenty of safeguards now in the law. We don’t have abortion on demand. We have requirements in South Carolina – strict requirements— and I don’t see the need to ratchet it up, because the science tells us the way that this law wants to change things, for most women it will be too late to decide to whether or not to have an abortion even before they’re pregnant.”

Henegan could not be reached for comment.

How does it become law?

If the bill makes it out of committees in both the House and Senate, it would be referred either to another committee in either chamber or voted on by both bodies.

If passed by both bodies, the bill would go to Gov. Henry McMaster for a signature and then become law if signed.

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