South Carolina considers pain-capable abortion bill to protect unborn

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Addressing a state legislative hearing, a Spartanburg, South Carolina, mother told lawmakers, "Against our doctor's advice and with much fear we opted not to abort."

The Senate Committee on Medical Affairs March 18 heard testimony surrounding the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

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The measure -- which passed the South Carolina House with a vote of 80-27 and has exceptions to protect the life and health of the mother -- would require that any physician in the state to determine the gestational age of the unborn child post-conception and prohibit any abortion if the determined age was older than 19 weeks. The current ban on abortion in South Carolina is 24 weeks after conception, unless the mother's life is in danger.

Wendy Duke's testimony at the hearing dealt with her family's decision not to abort their daughter and their perspective and experiences as a result.

Doctors told Duke when she was 20-weeks pregnant that her unborn daughter Savannah's right leg was a quarter of the size of her right leg and had no knee or foot. They also said she had a brain abnormality. Duke recounted her and her daughter's experiences after choosing life to the senators on the panel.

"She battled cancer for the first 16 months of her life, got her first walker at 2 and crutches at 3. ... She swam her first swim meet at 6 years old. She ran a half mile in the county fun run in the fifth grade. She climbed the 219 steps to the top of the St. Augustine lighthouse at 12 years old, refusing to let her daddy carry her so she could rightfully earn the T-shirt."

After her mother spoke, Savannah gave her prepared statement and ending it with: "I'm glad my parents chose to save my life."

In her closing remarks, Duke said of her daughter, "I cannot imagine this world without her, and I cannot fathom that a law, a doctor or the presence of a disability denies her the right to live in it."

Duke has written "Grace in the Middle," which "follows the author and her family through their newborn daughter's battle with cancer and physical disabilities," and Savannah, 14, is also on the varsity swim team at a local high school.

The bill has found support among such organizations as South Carolina Citizens for Life, the Catholic Diocese of Charleston, the South Carolina Baptist Convention, the Palmetto Family Council and the North Greenville Christian World View Center.

It is not the first time that pain-capable legislation has been before the South Carolina Statehouse.

A comparable bill passed the South Carolina House last year but died in the Senate when the legislative session ended in June. "It was like getting up to the one-yard line and losing," Holly Gatling, executive director of South Carolina Citizens for Life, told Catholic News Service in an interview in January.

Despite the difficulties posed in last year's attempt at passage, Gatling was optimistic about this legislative session.

"We do expect that it will pass the Senate this year," said Gatling, though she expects a "much tougher fight" than in the House. When asked whether Republican Gov. Nikki Haley would sign it, she replied that Haley "has signed two big pieces of pro-life legislation since being in office; she is pro-life and she will sign this bill."

The committee was expected to vote on the bill, but decided to stay the vote until later, in order to hear more testimony, according to Oran P. Smith, president of the Palmetto Family Council. A committee level vote is expected in the upcoming weeks.

Eleven other states have laws in place banning abortions after 20 weeks, which science says is when fetuses can feel pain.

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