As heartbeat bill passes key hurdle, Charleston diocese welcomes progress

/ Ray Dumas via Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0).

Denver Newsroom, Jan 29, 2021 / 12:54 am (CNA).- A proposed South Carolina ban on abortion after an unborn child’s heartbeat can be detected has won approval from the state senate for the first time, drawing praise from the Catholic Diocese of Charleston.

“The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston fully supports legal protection for unborn children, so we are extremely pleased that the South Carolina Senate, in a bipartisan effort, passed the third reading of the South Carolina Heartbeat Bill,” Maria Aselage, media relations director for the Diocese of Charleston, said in a Jan. 28 statement.

Aselage, whose diocese covers the entire state of South Carolina, said the bill has two main goals.

“First, it provides a pre-born child protection from an abortion once a heartbeat is detected. This would prevent nearly all abortions in the Palmetto State since the heartbeat can be detected around the sixth week of pregnancy,” she said. “The second goal of the bill is to require that doctors check for the heartbeat of the child so that when a heartbeat is detected, the child immediately receives full protection under the law.”

The state currently bans abortion after 20 weeks into pregnancy.

If the heartbeat-based bill becomes law, doctors who violate it could face a felony charge and up to two years in prison. Women seeking abortions would not be subject to criminal prosecution. Exemptions would allow abortions in cases where the child was conceived in rape or incest.

A similar proposal has passed the House of Representatives several times, including a 2020 vote of 70-31, but the legislation lacked the votes to overcome a procedural vote in the Senate, the Associated Press reports.

After Republican candidates won three more Senate seats in the 2020 elections, their party now holds a 30-16 advantage.

There had been some debate in the legislature over whether to keep exceptions for pregnancies conceived in rape or incest. Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey thought removing such exemptions would hurt the bill’s chances in the courts.

“What I want to do is save as many lives as possible. That means passing legislation, but that also means passing something there is a good chance courts will uphold,” he said, according to the Associated Press.

House Speaker Jay Lucas said that if the Senate passes the bill, he will put it before the House as soon as possible.

Gov. Henry McMaster has also promised to sign the bill as soon as possible.

Sen. Sandy Senn of Charleston was the only Republican to vote against the bill.

The South Carolina Catholic conference had drafted a message for voters to send to their state senator. The message supports the bill “as a challenge to the current legal precedent that permits abortion on demand in South Carolina until the unborn child is capable of feeling pain.”

“With new changes to the U.S. Supreme Court, it is our sincere hope that the legislation will withstand constitutional challenge and be implemented in order to save innocent, unborn babies’ lives when a heartbeat is present,” the message continued. “As we know, abortion stops a beating heart.”

Similar bans on abortion based on fetal heartbeat have passed in several states but have not fared well in court.

The U.S. Supreme Court is believed to be favorable towards changing the current legal precedent that mandates permissive abortion laws nationwide. In other states, pro-abortion legislators have acted to strengthen legal abortion at the state level in case federal precedent on legal abortion is changed or overturned.

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