Pro-lifers make a stand in the South’s abortion destination
South Carolina lawmakers again try to enact protections for babies
On Wednesday, May 10, a line of female lawmakers marched single-file into the chamber of the South Carolina House of Representatives. Each carried a blue filing box and stacked them, one by one at the front of the room.
A post on the House Democrats’ Twitter page played the Taylor Swift song “Look What You Made Me Do” over video of the lawmakers bringing in the boxes. The tweet stated Democrats had filed more than 1,000 amendments to the “radical abortion ban. If they want a debate, they’ll get one.”
The last day of the General Assembly’s annual session was supposed to be the second Thursday in May. But the day before, House Speaker Murrell Smith made an announcement: “You probably don’t want to hear this. … We are going to come back next Tuesday, May 16. And be prepared to be here as long as it takes.”
The agenda included conventional items like bond reform and the budget. But the abortion bill the House Democrats called “radical” was also in the lineup. House Bill 3774 would protect babies from abortion once they have a detectable heartbeat. The state Senate passed the measure in February, and the House Judiciary Committee passed it on May 9. Smith said the House would bring it to a final vote. “We will not adjourn until we finish,” he said. That meant lawmakers should bring their own food for the day—maybe even for multiple days, Smith hinted.
A little before 1 p.m. Tuesday, House lawmakers voted on the first amendment to the heartbeat bill, beginning a long day of debate. The final push to pass the Senate’s heartbeat bill is the latest development in a monthslong attempt to enact further protections for unborn babies in South Carolina. Leading up to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision in June 2022, pro-life groups expected the state’s 2021 heartbeat law to take effect, and lawmakers planned to pass further protections in a special session after the decision came down. Instead, South Carolina ended up with one of the most liberal abortion laws in the region by the end of the regular legislative session. The setbacks have discouraged pro-lifers. But they have also learned important spiritual lessons.
“It’s been quite a ride in the last year,” said state Rep. John McCravy over Zoom from his office in Greenwood, S.C., on Friday. Last year around this time, McCravy, a Republican, was researching model legislation for a bill to protect babies from abortion starting at conception. McCravy headed up the committee crafting the bill in a special session called in reaction to the overturn of Roe v. Wade. But the measure failed and, in January, the state Supreme Court ruled the 2021 heartbeat law unconstitutional. That left the state with a 2016 law only protecting babies from abortion after 20 weeks of gestation.
“We started over this year,” McCravy said.
He and his fellow pro-life lawmakers tried again in January with a bill to protect babies starting at conception. In April, it died in the Senate when some Republican lawmakers joined with Democrats to prevent the bill from coming to a vote.
But even before the House passed that bill in February, the Senate passed revised heartbeat legislation that seeks to solve some of the problems with the 2021 version. Pro-lifers also hope that new justices on the state Supreme Court will let the legislation stand this time.
For pro-life House lawmakers, this bill is their last chance this session to enact at least some protections for unborn babies.
McCravy planned to bring a pillow to his desk Tuesday for what he expects will be an all-night battle over the heartbeat bill. “It’s not something I’m happy with,” McCravy said of the bill. “You know, I don’t personally believe in exceptions. … And I’m not in favor of allowing abortions before six weeks, before there’s a heartbeat.” But he thinks it’s the best bill they can get this election cycle.
“I’m prepared to stay as long as it takes,” he said. “I may take a nap in between amendments.” By 4 p.m. Tuesday, the House was barely past amendment 30.
As the political theater plays out in the capitol building, Mark Baumgartner and his team of sidewalk counselors at the pro-life ministry A Moment of Hope are coming to terms with the possibility that they may need to continue at their posts outside of the Planned Parenthood abortion center in Columbia, S.C., for years to come.
To Baumgartner last summer it seemed like a “no-brainer” that the Republican majorities in the House and Senate would pass a law to shut down abortion businesses in the state. “I was ready to be done with abortion. I was hopeful that it was going to be done,” Baumgartner said. But on one of the days last fall that disappointing news came out of the legislature, Baumgartner said he went to bed at 5 p.m. “I was depressed,” he said. “I just—I didn’t want to get up. I didn’t want to deal with it. I just realized that I was going to be out there for the long haul.”
Valerie Berry, the client services manager at A Moment of Hope, said she and others on staff had started dreaming about what they could do with the ministry once abortion facilities shut down in the state. But toward the end of 2022, the number of women coming for abortion appointments was higher than before the Supreme Court announced its Dobbs decision. In 2023, they’ve continued to see more cars with license plates from states like Tennessee and Georgia, where lawmakers have enacted stronger protections for unborn babies. Instead of brainstorming new directions for the ministry, they’ve realized they need to double-down on what they’ve always done.
“We’re so busy full time, just responding to what’s going on. … We just didn’t have the infrastructure to respond to even more at our own location,” Berry said. At one point last fall, she remembers thinking, This will never end. We will just continue to see women come in and babies die. Against this backdrop, the inaction from lawmakers seemed “callous” and “cavalier” to her.
McCravy said Friday he believes the House has a bill the Senate will pass, adding that they have “assurances from the Senate that they will pass it.” But even if it does pass, Baumgartner said he and his team would still expect to see about 20 abortions a week. That, he said, would not change the work of A Moment of Hope at all. “It’s 20 lives too many,” said Baumgartner—and 20 more than they expected to see last year when the state seemed poised to pass broader protections for babies. “So we’re going to be out there, just like we have been for the last 10 years.”
While Baumgartner said the past year has made him cynical about politics, it’s reminded him to not put his hope in worldly powers but instead “in Christ and His kingdom.”
Berry said that this spring, the Lord has worked in her heart to remind her to be faithful. “He’s the Lord of the harvest,” she said. “My job was to continue to sow and to reap and to be there for these women. And he’s going to work out the details in his timing.”
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