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More restrictive South Carolina abortion bill not likely to become law

 South Carolina Rep. John McCravy, a Republican, speaks on the floor of the House of Representatives Sept. 27, 2022.
South Carolina House of Representatives
South Carolina Rep. John McCravy, a Republican, speaks on the floor of the House of Representatives Sept. 27, 2022.

A more restrictive proposed abortion ban in South Carolina is likely dead after members of the state’s House of Representatives on Tuesday refused to approve Senate changes to the bill.

The House voted 95-11 to send H. 5399 to a committee with three members from each chamber to negotiate their differences, but Senate leaders have repeatedly said their chamber does not have the votes to pass a stricter ban.

The Housein August passed a measure that would have outlawed nearly all abortions in South Carolina, with exceptions for victims of sexual assault up to 12 weeks of pregnancy. The Senate lacked the support to approve a near-total ban, so in early September it passed a measure that would ban abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy and narrow the exceptions included in the state’s existing “fetal heartbeat” law.

Health RELATED: Amended abortion bill heads back to South Carolina House Claire Donnelly

When the Senate’s version came before the House for approval Tuesday, Rep. John McCravy, a Republican, urged members to vote against it. He argued it was too similar to the “fetal heartbeat” bill, which lawmakers passed in 2021 before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and took effect shortly after the Dobbs decision in June.

“I don’t believe we intended to come back to Columbia and work all summer to simply pass a law that we already have,” McCravy said, addressing legislators. “I certainly didn’t come back for that... and I don’t think you came back for that.”

After the House vote rejecting the Senate’s change Tuesday, Senate President Thomas Alexander said the move made passing any version of H. 5399 “almost impossible.”

“Unfortunately, the House’s approach likely forecloses any chance to fix issues in our fetal heartbeat law raised by the South Carolina Supreme Court,” Alexander said in a statement.

The “fetal heartbeat” law has remained temporarily blocked since August 17 while the state’s high court considers a legal challenge. The court is scheduled to start oral arguments on Oct. 19.

The Senate’s version of the H. 5399 bill passed on September 8 when senators lacked the support to pass a more restrictive ban and were unable to overcome a filibuster. Instead of allowing abortions for victims of rape and incest up to 20 weeks of pregnancy, as in the “heartbeat” law, the Senate bill would reduce that window to 12 weeks. It would also allow for abortions if the mother’s life or health are threatened or if the fetus has a fatal anomaly as confirmed by two physicians.

Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, a Republican, has said he does not think the Senate could pass a stricter ban than six weeks — even if the measure were returned to the Senate from the House, as it was Tuesday.

“I don’t know that there’s education in the second kick of the mule,” Massey told SCETV after the Senate’s vote on September 8. “It’s pretty clear to me where the votes are, and I don’t want to try some futile effort if you don’t have the votes to do it.”

On August 30, the South Carolina House initially rejected the near-total ban bill without rape and incest exceptions by eight votes. Once Republicans saw the outcome, they quickly went through a number of complex procedures and votes to bring the bill back from the brink of failure. The exceptions were added by enough lawmakers shouting “aye" and the bill passed by a vote of 67-38.

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literture and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. In her free time, Claire likes listening to podcasts and trying out new recipes.