South Carolina state senate considering six-week abortion ban | South Carolina

South Carolina’s state senate is debating an anti-abortion bill on Tuesday that would ban most abortions at about six weeks into a pregnancy, a period when most people are unaware they are pregnant. The Republican-controlled senate will consider the ban, which has already overwhelmingly passed the state house chamber, during a special session that will decide whether the bill advances to the governor’s desk.

The Fetal Heartbeat and Protection From Abortion Act would ban abortions at the earliest detection of cardiac activity, and if passed would set up a judicial battle over whether the bill is constitutional. It is part of a wave of anti-abortion legislation passed or proposed throughout the country since the supreme court overturned Roe v Wade last year and eliminated the constitutional right to abortion. Abortion access in the south – which already has some of the most restrictive laws in the country – has been dramatically curtailed with new legislation in North Carolina and Florida. A series of Texas laws prohibit abortions after six weeks and make performing abortions a felony punishable up to life in prison.

A group of female lawmakers, known as the “sister senators”, is expected to attempt to oppose the bill. The five senators are the only female lawmakers out of the 46-seat South Carolina senate, and they have joined together across party lines to stop the passage of the ban. Republican senator Sandy Senn told the Associated Press earlier this month that they plan to filibuster the bill.

The “sister senators” group previously blocked a bill in April that would have banned abortion at conception, filibustering during a three-day debate over the legislation that ultimately resulted in it failing to pass. The group is not wholly opposed to restricting abortion access, however, and two of the three Republican members of the group recently voiced support for a different version of a six-week abortion ban bill.

Republicans, who control the state house, senate and governor’s office, have debated exactly what legislative restrictions should be placed on abortion. House Republicans changed a bill they passed earlier this month to remove a section that would have allowed minors to seek legal permission for abortion access until the 12th week of pregnancy.

South Carolina currently allows abortions until 22 weeks into a pregnancy, but the new bill would sharply curtail abortion access in the state. A South Carolina supreme court ruling in January struck down a previous six-week abortion ban, but since then the makeup of the court has changed, with its sole female justice retiring after writing the lead opinion in the case. She was replaced by a man in what is now the country’s only all-male state supreme court.

One of the group’s behind South Carolina’s anti-abortion push is the Freedom Caucus, a far-right coalition of legislators that formed last year and has advocated for extreme restrictions on abortion and gender-affirming care. Earlier this year one member of the Freedom Caucus proposed a bill that would have made people who decide to have an abortion liable to face the death penalty.

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South Carolina is one of only two states where legislators are the sole body that selects justices, and ProPublica reported that the Freedom Caucus rallied around the male candidate for state supreme court earlier this year despite the two female candidates having served longer on the second-highest court.

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