Earlier this week, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley signed a bill banning abortions after 19 weeks, with the sole exception of pregnancies in which a woman’s life is physically at risk. The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act passed through the state’s Republican controlled legislature only after the ban was stripped of exceptions for cases of rape and incest.
This bill makes South Carolina the 14th state to enact a 20-week ban, part of a troubling erosion of Roe v. Wade that stands to seriously threaten the reproductive freedom of American women.
In South Carolina, as in other states, a strict 20 week ban isn’t where conservative lawmakers plan to stop when it comes to restricting abortion access. The bill’s sponsor, State Representative Wendy Nanney (R), was quoted in Reuters saying “I believe that life begins at conception, and every step we can take to get back to that point is important.”
This sort of open threat against a federally protected right is chilling, as is the pseudo-science behind a main premise of the bill; the concept that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks. Mainstream science has plainly stated that fetal pain at 20 weeks is a myth, and, despite that, South Carolina lawmakers are creating real laws that will effect real women on the premise that this concept is real.
Specifically, the bill also potentially targets women in the unthinkable position of having to pursue a late term abortion when a severe defect is detected in the fetus later in the course of pregnancy. Alyssa Miller, of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, explained how the bill stands to harm women who are already enduring a serious, traumatic ordeal. “Abortion in late pregnancy is extremely rare and often takes place in complex and difficult situations where a woman and her doctor need every medical option available,” she said, pointing out that in states that have passed similar bans, women and their families have already been put in the horrendous situation of needing to end a pregnancy for serious medical reasons but being legally unable to do so.
Critics of the bill include members of the very legislature that passed it: State Representative Beth Bernstein (D) said the bill would “cause much suffering”, and that it only stands to make a hard decision even more difficult.
Even if the bill wasn’t going to target an already vulnerable group of women, it represents a disquieting trend toward the erosion of the right to reproductive self-determination guaranteed by Roe v. Wade. As Miller stated, the bill is part of an “extreme political agenda” which intends to “chip away at access to safe and legal abortion.