With calls of emotional blackmail from opponents, a measure requiring women seeking abortions to first review ultrasound images of their fetuses advanced Wednesday in the South Carolina Legislature.
The legislation, supported by Republican Gov. Mark Sanford, passed 91-23 after lawmakers defeated amendments exempting rape or incest. The House must approve the bill again in a routine vote before it goes to the Senate, where its sponsor expects it to pass with those exemptions.
Some states make ultrasound images available to women before an abortion, but South Carolina would be alone in requiring women to view the pictures.
Critics consider the proposal a tool to intimidate women who already have made an agonizing decision.
"You love them in the womb, but once they get here, it's a different story," said Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, a Democrat and a social worker. "You're sitting here passing judgment? Who gave you the right?"
Proponents hope women will change their minds after seeing an ultrasound.
Rep. Alan Clemmons, choking back tears as he talked about his two adopted children, recalled a prayer given by his 11-year-old daughter.
"She thanked her God, her father in heaven for her birth mother for loving her enough to give her life," said Clemmons, a Republican. "I thank my God for those young mothers who chose to give them life."
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Greg Delleney, a Republican, said the measure would save lives and a lifetime of regret for some women.
“She can determine for herself whether she is carrying an unborn child deserving of protection or whether it’s just an inconvenient, unnecessary part of her body and an abortion fits her circumstances at that time,” Delleney told NBC affiliate WIS-TV of Columbia.
The state's three abortion clinics already perform ultrasounds, paid for by the woman seeking the procedure, to determine the fetus' age. The state's informed-consent law, passed in 1994, requires abortion doctors to tell women at least an hour before the operation the likely age of their fetus and give them information about fetal development and alternatives to abortion.
An opponent, Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, a Democrat, said there was no need to change the law, because women already have access to ultrasound images if they want them.
“It suggests that women don’t know what they’re doing, that they’ve arrived at this decision quite lightly, and nothing could be further from the truth,” Cobb-Hunter told WIS.
For Chappell Fennell, the mother of a newborn, it’s a close call, but in the final analysis, she said, it’s a bad idea.
“I can see both sides,” Fennell told WIS. “I think it’s a woman’s decision in the end, and that’s how it should be. I don’t think it should be left up to senators or House members whether or not she should look at an ultrasound.”