Nine South Carolina Republicans who had co-sponsored one of the most severe anti-abortion proposals in the country have since withdrawn their support, reversing course on a measure that proposed applying the state’s homicide laws to people who undergo abortions.
The legislation, which had 24 co-sponsors — all Republicans — since its introduction in January, lost support from nine of them in recent weeks.
Reps. Kathy Landing and Matt Leber were the first to pull back support in late February.
Leber, who was also among the first Republicans to support the measure in January, told NBC News that he decided he couldn't support the bill's existing language and realized it had no chance of passing.
"In its current form, I cannot keep my name on it," Leber said. "I wouldn't want to prosecute or charge women at all, that's never been my philosophy on pro-life issues."
The bill has been referred to the state House Judiciary Committee, but it hasn't yet been considered. Leber said party leaders made clear that "the bill was dead on arrival" and wouldn't reach the House floor.
"It was my intention to offer amendments. Clean it up," he said. "I'm very clear that the current language this bill is not what I stand for."
In March, the bill started to get more national attention. And that's when other supporters began to back off.
Within two weeks of adding his name as a sponsor, Rep. David Vaughan withdrew his support on Monday, along with Reps. Fawn Pedalino, Brian Lawson, Randy Ligon and Patrick Haddon.
In a text message, Vaughan told NBC News that he removed his name because he did not believe a woman who has an abortion should be criminalized, and also that he had "signed on that bill in Error.”
A day later, Rep. Mark Willis said he would no longer back the bill, and on Thursday, Rep. Brandon Guffey became the latest Republican to pull his name off the list of the bill's sponsors.
In a Facebook post explaining the shift, Guffey said, "I am pro life but that includes the life of the mother."
In an interview, Guffey said that while he hoped a bill aimed at abortion would pass this session so that South Carolina would no longer serve as an "abortion haven state," he could not back the current version.
"My view is simply, I don't want abortion to be used as birth control," Guffey said. "I don’t believe that a woman should be murdered for having an abortion."
Guffey said he hadn't realized the bill included language suggesting that a person could face the death penalty for having an abortion before he signed on to it.
"I read through it, but I did not click on the code that it linked to stating that a woman should get the death penalty," he said.
The remaining six legislators who withdrew their sponsorship -- Pedalino, Landing, Lawson, Ligon, Haddon and Willis -- did not respond to requests for comment.
Rep. Jordan Pace blasted opposition and media reports that he said had “overblown the death penalty aspect" of the proposed legislation, arguing that the likelihood of a person being charged and facing the penalty of death were "infinitesimally small."
"That is such an absurd fallacy," Pace said in an interview. "A lot of people who are making that claim clearly haven't read the bill.
"I think it's entirely appropriate to protect all people, regardless of their size, shape or location, equally under the law," he added. "So, if it can be proven that one person killed another person, on purpose, then that is by definition homicide is it not?"
The South Carolina Prenatal Equal Protection Act would “ensure that an unborn child who is a victim of homicide is afforded equal protection under the homicide laws of the state.” The bill identifies a “person” as an “unborn child at every stage of development from fertilization until birth.”
Under South Carolina law, people convicted of murder can face the death penalty or a minimum of 30 years in prison.
Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, a Republican, said on Twitter that the bill "has zero chance of passing."
Rep. Rob Harris, who put forward the legislation, did not respond to a request for comment.
U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace, a Republican who has criticized her party for "not showing compassion" on abortion, which she says has made it more difficult to appeal to the majority of Americans who support it — chastised legislators in her state for backing the bill.
“It is deeply disturbing to me as a woman and as a victim of rape that some in my home state want to give rapists more rights than women who’ve been raped,” Mace tweeted Thursday. “And I don’t know why I have to say this, but it isn’t pro life to execute a woman who seeks an abortion after being raped.”
South Carolina, which currently allows most abortions until roughly 20 weeks of pregnancy, has repeatedly sought to enact stricter laws barring abortion.
The Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act, which banned abortion after six weeks with some exceptions, was signed into law by Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, in 2021.
In January, the South Carolina Supreme Court struck down that ban, ruling that it violated a state constitutional right to privacy.
Last month, the South Carolina Senate passed an abortion ban that bars most abortions after about six weeks and states that it does not prohibit contraception.
It also removes a 1974 law criminalizing abortion. That bill says that a woman who has an abortion "may not be criminally prosecuted" for violating its provisions and is not subject to a civil or criminal penalty stemming from the abortion.