- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 30, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Legislation that would ban abortions after 19 weeks in South Carolina has advanced in the state Senate.

A Senate subcommittee voted 4-1 on Wednesday to advance the bill after amending it to give exceptions to the ban for cases of rape, incest and fetal anomaly. The sole exception originally permitted in the bill, which passed the House 81-22 last month, was where the mother’s life is in danger.

Legislators also inserted language to safeguard the use of contraceptives, IUDs and the morning-after pill. The new language further defines an “unborn child” and “fetus” ”from fertilization after implantation to live birth.” Opponents had concerns the bill’s previous language would have outlawed contraception.

Supporters believe the ban is needed on the assertion that a fetus at 20 weeks can feel pain. Opponents question the validity of whether a fetus can feel pain at that stage.

The proposed ban also would require a doctor terminating a pregnancy after the 19th week to do so in a way that gives the fetus the best chance of survival, without endangering the life of the mother.

The proposed ban would only affect hospitals as Planned Parenthood clinics in South Carolina do not provide abortions beyond 19 weeks. Under the ban, doctors who intentionally perform illegal abortions after 19 weeks could be fined $1,000 for first and second offenses and $5,000 or three years in prison for a third offense.

Opponents include the American Civil Liberties Union. Opponents argued that the bill violates 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 usually starts around 28 weeks but begin early as 24 weeks.

Last week Mississippi’s governor signed into law legislation banning abortions, without exception for rape or incest, 20 weeks after a woman’s last menstrual period. Several states including Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas likewise have banned abortions from the 20th week on. The bans have not gone unchallenged and in January the Supreme Court blocked Arizona from enforcing its 20-week ban after it was found unconstitutional by a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, who voted for the changes, said the bill is now in a position to challenge Roe v. Wade if that is its intention.

Sponsoring Sen. Lee Bright, R-Roebuck, opposed the changes for softening penalties against physicians and giving exception to cases of rape and incest.

“Without exceptions I feel like that the rapist ought to receive the capital punishment, not the unborn child,” Bright said.

National Right to Life attorney Jennifer Popik said she believed the bill she helped draft does not need amending to address concerns over how it could affect contraception. She said no matter what the definition of abortion is, the bill would only apply to intentional abortions starting at 20 weeks.

Popik also gave testimony as a mother of twins who have a rare condition that was not detectable by ultrasound until after 20 weeks.

She said no matter the prospect of quality of life might be for an unborn child, it is the responsibility for the state to protect that life.

Opponents welcome the changes but fear the bill is still too restrictive.

Psychologist, Dr. Julie Bindeman, of Rockville, M.D., spoke against the amended bill as could put doctors and patients at risk over fears of what fits the definition of a fetal anomaly.

Bindeman said her three healthy children would not be here if she hadn’t been allowed to have to terminate two previous pregnancies because of severe fetal abnormalities that were only detected after 20 weeks. She also had previously suffered a miscarriage.

The bill will now go to the Senate Medical Affairs Committee.

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