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Rape and incest exceptions quietly added to SC fetal heartbeat abortion bill

The state bill would outlaw abortions after a fetal heartbeat could be detected, usually by the eighth week of a pregnancy.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina senators have quietly added exceptions for rape and incest to a bill that would attempt to ban almost all abortions in the state. 

The change Tuesday likely boosts the proposal’s chances of finally passing the chamber and becoming law. Federal law would still allow women to obtain abortions. 

The state bill would outlaw abortions after a fetal heartbeat could be detected, usually by the eighth week of a pregnancy. Most women don't know they are pregnant that early. 

Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey spoke for 90 seconds suggesting the change. Senate President Harvey Peeler asked senators to vote “Aye” or “Nay” out loud and quickly ruled it passed. 

During debate Tuesday Sen. Sandy Senn, a Republican from Charleston, suggested lawmakers should change the restriction to begin after the end of the first trimester, or about 12 weeks into a pregnancy. But Sen. Richard Cash, a Republican from Anderson, said that wouldn't reduce the number of abortions enough. 

Democratic Minority Leader Sen. Brad Hutto of Orangeburg told his fellow lawmakers he didn't think the measure was necessary, since similar ones passed by other states are pending before courts, and could go to the U.S. Supreme Court. He also wondered why Republicans weren't moving for a total ban on abortions. 

The bill would fine doctors $10,000 for either failing to check if there's a fetal heartbeat or for performing a scan but proceeding anyway. They'd also face two years in prison on the felony charge. The bill makes no mention of penalties for women seeking an abortion. 

As debate took place, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster again said he supports the measure, hopes it passes quickly, and intends to sign it.

"The right to life is the most precious of rights and the most fragile," he said on social media. "It is time for South Carolina to stand for life and pass this critical legislation."

The final vote on the whole bill could come as soon as Thursday.