Senate returns anti-abortion bill to the House, but Sen. Bright warns the debate isn't over

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COLUMBIA, South Carolina — The fate of a bill banning abortion past 19 weeks in South Carolina is once again in the House's hands.

The Senate, on a voice vote, gave second approval Wednesday to its compromise, sending the amended bill back to the House. That compromise added exceptions for cases of rape, incest, and — in narrowly defined circumstances — severe fetal anomalies, which are generally detected around the 20th week.

"By then, most mothers are hoping they're going in for a checkup that says 'my baby is going to be fine,' but there are a few cases, at this point, it is determined the child has developed some condition" that means the child will most likely die at birth without the aid of machines, said Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg.

Hutto has blocked the bill for years but has said he's willing to let it pass this year with the exceptions.

The version the House passed in February provides exceptions only to save the mother's life or to protect her from severe injury.

If the House accepts the Senate's additions, the bill will head to Gov. Nikki Haley's desk. If it doesn't, the bill almost certainly won't pass this year.

Any change would likely be blocked in the Senate.

Sen. Lee Bright, R-Roebuck, promises to continue his fight against rape and incest exceptions if the bill returns to the Senate with those included. Bright, one of the Legislature's most strident abortion foes, had threatened to block the Senate from approving Hutto's compromise at all, exasperating his fellow anti-abortion activists both inside the Senate and the lobby. While he eventually voted for the compromise, he insists he won't let a bill reach Haley's desk with the exceptions.

"The debate is not over," Bright said Wednesday.

Other abortion foes wonder if those two exceptions are an issue anyway. Victims of such crimes will likely pursue an abortion before five months, Rep. Wendy Nanney, the House's main sponsor, said last week.

If the bill returns without the exceptions, Hutto promises to block it.

The bill only affects abortions performed in hospitals. The state's three abortion clinics don't perform the procedure past 13 weeks.

On average, fewer than 30 abortions yearly are performed at 20 weeks gestation or beyond, according to data since 1990 from the state's public health agency.

Opponents of the measure have long argued they involve wanted pregnancies that go horribly wrong and politicians should play no role in that decision.

"The vast majority, if not all, of the women at five months have determined they want this child," Hutto said.

A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood said the nonprofit is disappointed by the Legislature's "complete disregard for the real-world circumstances that women and their families face."

"We commend those legislative allies who stood up for women on the Senate floor to make clear that abortion is a deeply personal, often complex decision that is best left to a woman and her doctor — not politicians," said Alyssa Miller, state director of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, which operates one of the three clinics that perform abortions in South Carolina.

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