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Possible sticking point hit in South Carolina abortion ban debate

The state currently has a six-week ban but the South Carolina Supreme Court suspended the law earlier this month.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina House members are debating a new total ban on abortion Tuesday with no exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest even as some Republicans in the GOP-dominated chamber suggested they can't vote for the bill as written.

But if the exceptions are put into the bill, the chamber's most conservative members could join with Democrats to kill the bill, too.

On the day before the debate, one of the most conservative House lawmakers said 20 Republicans have signed his letter saying they would not commit to voting for the total ban with the rape and incest exceptions, which with the votes against from 43 Democrats would be enough to kill the bill.

RELATED: Bill banning nearly all abortions heads to S. Carolina House floor

“With a solid Republican majority in the South Carolina Legislature, there is no reason or excuse we should have to negotiate a lesser position,” Republican Rep. Stewart Jones said.

The state currently has a six-week ban but the South Carolina Supreme Court suspended the law earlier this month while the justices decide on a Planned Parenthood lawsuit that says the ban is an unreasonable invasion of privacy under the state constitution. The decision leaves South Carolina's abortion ban at 20 weeks for now.

Supporters of the total ban in South Carolina want to follow the lead of Indiana, which earlier in August passed a total ban to go into effect on Sept. 15 with exceptions for rape, incest, and if the mother's life is in danger. West Virginia's House and Senate couldn't agree on stricter abortion rules in a July session.

Thirteen states have so-called trigger laws designed to outlaw most abortions when the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the constitutional right to end a pregnancy in June.

South Carolina leaders have watched those developments carefully, as well as events several weeks ago in Kansas, where nearly 60% of voters rejected a ballot measure that would have allowed the state’s conservative Legislature to ban abortion. Republican Donald Trump received 56% of the 2020 presidential vote in Kansas. Trump won 55% in South Carolina.

Republican leaders in the South Carolina House allowed for the speaker to call the special session after the leak of a draft opinion indicating the U.S. Supreme Court would allow states to ban abortion. Lawmakers started working on the total ban after Roe v. Wade was overturned in June.

RELATED: South Carolina's fetal heartbeat abortion law on hold by State Supreme Court

A special House committee then heard public testimony and drafted the total ban bill. It allows abortions if a mother's life is in danger and then lists a number of different medical emergencies that would fit into that exception.

The House Judiciary Committee sent the bill to the House floor on a 13-7 vote. All yes votes were from Republicans and all votes against the bill were from Democrats. But three Republican committee members who were at the meeting did not vote.

It's not just the exceptions making some Republicans pause. The bill includes a statement that “it is undisputed that the life of every human being begins at conception” and some conservatives said they must figure out whether that means child support and tax breaks begin at conception, too.

The South Carolina House has 80 Republicans, 43 Democrats, and one vacancy. The bill needs a majority vote to be sent to the Senate, where stricter bans on abortions have seen tougher fights.

Republican Gov. Henry McMaster hasn't given his opinion on this specific bill but has said he would like to see a day where there are no abortions in the state.

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