- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 16, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Legislation seeking to ban and criminalize abortion beyond 19 weeks of pregnancy in South Carolina has stalled in the state Senate.

Lawmakers postponed a vote at a Medical Affairs subcommittee Wednesday over concerns the bill was too broad and that it could even ban contraception. Debate likely will continue later this month.

The bill, which passed the House 81-22 last month, aims to ban abortions beyond 19 weeks on the assertion that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks old. Opponents say whether a fetus can feel pain at that stage is questionable.

The bill would target hospitals because Planned Parenthood clinics in South Carolina do not provide abortions beyond 19 weeks.

Under the bill, doctors who disregard the ban could be charged with a felony even in cases of rape, incest and a severely deformed unborn child. The only exception it provides is when the mother’s life is endangered. Even then, a doctor must end the pregnancy in a way that gives the fetus the best chance for survival.

Opponents, which include the American Civil Liberties Union, said the bill would further violate the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that prohibits states banning abortions prior to a fetus’ potential ability to survive outside the uterus. The court ruled fetal viability starts between 24 and 28 weeks.

Opponents also are concerned that the bill would outlaw contraception as its language defines an “unborn child” and “fetus” starting at fertilization and an abortion as any drug-induced attempt to intentionally terminate a pregnancy.

Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, asked for the reasoning behind the language if the bill is not intended to give legal rights to fertilized eggs or undermine the right to contraception.

“Why do you need definitions related to fertilization when their only focus, admittedly, is the 20-week ban? So it just seems to me when you start defining a medicine or drug that affects an unborn child and you define unborn child at fertilization, you are affecting contraception,” Hutto said and suggested changes to the bill.

Supporter Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, said the bill is common sense as it would stop unborn children at the age of 20 weeks from going through the pain of an abortion.

Bright said he wants to stop all abortions entirely but understands that when it comes to life of the mother, no one should be denied the right to self-defense.

“That’s the only argument I understand coming from the pro-choice side,” Bright said.

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