COLUMBIA - South Carolina's Senate has effectively killed a ban on almost all abortions in the state, voting early Friday morning to return the bill to committee.
Five Republicans joined Democrats in the 24-21 vote, which came after Democrats held the Senate floor for an hours-long filibuster. The measure, now dead for this year, would only have allowed abortions in cases of rape, incest or risk of the mother's life.
It was a rare legislative win for Democrats in a state where Republicans have had control of both the House and Senate since the turn of the 21st century.
"The filibuster and debate regarding the ban on safe and legal abortion yesterday painted a stark contrast in leadership and priorities in the South Carolina Senate, and we could not be prouder of our women's health champions," South Atlantic Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Vicki Ringer said.
The bill initially only banned a procedure called dismemberment abortion, which was performed 22 times out of 5,736 abortions in 2016 in South Carolina.
But a Democrat who has spent years fighting restrictions against abortions took a risk. State Sen. Brad Hutto of Orangeburg suggested changing the bill to ban all abortions except in cases of rape, incest or threat to the life of the mother. Republicans agreed on a 24-1 vote with most Democrats sitting out.
The change galvanized the debate. Supporters and opponents of the ban flocked to Columbia as Democrats started a filibuster. Sen. Marlon Kimpson of Charleston held the floor close to eight hours and when he mentioned he was hungry for Chinese food, one supporter drove to the Statehouse with eggrolls.
Democrats also pointed out the broad proposal could also be read as banning many forms of birth control including intrauterine devices and birth control pills.
Sen. Gerald Malloy of Hartsville said the Democrats' strategy was carefully planned and, like a relay team, they had other senators ready to help if the filibuster went into the weekend. All 45 senators were in the Statehouse for the decisive vote around 12:45 a.m. Friday. Republicans had hoped some Democrats would go home.
"We were right there on pins and needles until the very end," Malloy said.
"Once the debate shifted from stopping the savage, uncivilized dismembering of living unborn children, and was turned into a specious and untruthful argument over Republicans wanting to outlaw birth control, the dismemberment abortion ban bill was doomed," said Holly Gatling, executive director of South Carolina Citizens for Life.
Republicans in the even more conservative House had serious reservations about the proposal.
House Majority Leader Gary Simrill of Rock Hill said his chamber's leaders could not support the nearly full abortion ban until the U.S. Supreme Court takes up another state's case and erodes or overturns the 1973 Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned state bans on abortions.
The filibuster over abortion came toward the end of a session in which senators have been accused of putting off several pressing issues. Those issues include bills dealing with a $9 billion debacle after two utilities abandoned 10 years of planning and construction of two nuclear reactors.
The South Carolina Senate will return at 11 a.m. Tuesday with just three days left in the session, meaning any legislation not passed is wiped away and must start all over again next January.
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