South Carolina’s House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, according to a story by Reuters.
The bill, known as the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” passed the House with a 84-29 vote divided mostly along party lines. Republican supporters of the bill say it is necessary, citing disputed studies that indicate a 20-week old fetus can feel pain.
"We had over 60 studies introduced to us in committee that [showed] they do feel pain," said Rep. Wendy Nanney, Republican. "And the state has a right to step in and protect that child."
If the bill passes in the Senate, the state would join 12 other states that have passed such a ban.
The proposed legislation would allow doctors to perform an abortion if the mother’s life is at risk. It does, however, require that they first determine the age of the fetus and report to the health department whether ultrasound was used in the determination. Failing to follow the law could result in civil charges, penalties up to $10,000 and three years in prison.
Opponents of the bill say that late-term abortions are rare and fear that if the bill becomes law, doctors will not abort pregnancies even if doing so would be the appropriate medical action.
"While no woman should have to justify her personal medical decisions, the reality is that abortion later in pregnancy is very rare and often happens under heartbreaking and tragic circumstances," said Melissa Reed, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood, in Charleston’s The Post and Courier. "Politicians have no place in that conversation.”
A study cited in a Washington Post blog shows that only 44 late-term abortions were performed in South Carolina in 2010. Another study, mentioned in the same blog, contradicts the claim that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks. The American Medical Association found that “the capacity for conscious perception of pain can arise only after thalamocortical pathways begin to function, which may occur in the third trimester around 29 to 30 weeks’ gestational age.”
Democrats in the S.C. House blasted Republicans for supporting the bill while at the same time cutting Medicaid programs that would make healthcare available for families in need.
“[Republicans] plead passionately for life for those fetuses who are yet to be born,” said Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, Democrat. "When that fetus becomes a child and is delivered, that compassion does not seem to have the same level of interest."