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Abortion debate in South Carolina legislature stretches into second day


(CNN) South Carolina lawmakers reconvene Wednesday morning after debating for more than 12 hours on a bill that would ban most abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy.

South Carolina’s General Assembly ended its legislative session last week, but Republican Gov. Henry McMaster announced Friday that he is calling lawmakers back into a special session to continue working on the abortion bill and other legislation.

Ahead of Tuesday’s debate, Democratic lawmakers filed over 1,000 amendments to the proposed abortion ban and warned they planned to have other lawmakers debate each one.

“We have no intention of withdrawing any amendments. We’re going to be hurt if they’re going to force this on us,” said Democratic state Rep. Beth Bernstein.

Asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper on Wednesday if Democrats were “delaying the inevitable” passage of the measure, Bernstein admitted that they were “unfortunately” but that they were also trying to raise awareness about it.

“[T]The reason these amendments are being filed is so we can have that vote and so people can understand what we’re doing in the State House, we’re effectively banning abortion,” Bernstein said on “The Lead.”

But GOP State House Speaker Murrell Smith has made it clear to lawmakers that they won’t leave until the bill is approved.

“Bring dinner, supper, breakfast, lunch, whatever for days or however long you want to get through these changes,” Smith said last week, according to WLTX.

Tuesday’s session began in the afternoon, and lawmakers debated early Wednesday morning, adjourning just before noon. 2 ET. At the time, lawmakers had not even debated half of the proposed amendments to the bill.

Senate Bill 474, known as the “Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act,” would ban most abortions after early heart activity can be detected in a fetus or embryo. Such activity can commonly be detected as early as six weeks into pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant.

The legislation passed the Republican-controlled state Senate in February but has yet to pass the state House.

The contentious debate over the Palmetto State’s abortion law comes as lawmakers in neighboring North Carolina moved to ban most abortions after 12 weeks after the state’s Republican-led General Assembly overrode a veto by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

South Carolina passed a similar 6-week abortion ban in 2021, but the state Supreme Court struck it down earlier this year, concluding that the state constitution’s privacy protections require restrictions on the procedure to give women enough time to end a pregnancy.

The latest effort to pass additional restrictions on abortion also faltered in April when the state Senate failed to pass the “Human Life Protection Act,” which would have banned most abortions in the state, on a 22-21 vote with five women voted against it — including three Republicans. The bill had previously been passed in the state house and included exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

South Carolina’s bill offers exemptions for fatal fetal anomalies or to prevent death or “irreversible impairment of a major body function” of the mother throughout pregnancy. It will also allow exceptions of up to 12 weeks for cases of rape, incest or if the pregnant woman is under 17.

This story has been updated with additional details.

CNN’s Tina Burnside, Sara Smart, Devon Sayers and Kaanita Iyer contributed to this report.

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