Legislation in South Carolina Would Give Fertilized Eggs Legal Rights (and Strip Women of Theirs)

The battle over abortion rights in South Carolina continued this week, with legislation moving through the Senate Judiciary Committee that intends to end legal abortion in the state.

Liz Lemon / Creative Commons

As the Personhood Act of South Carolina now goes to the state’s Senate, the restrictions proposed are expected to lead to a larger debate. The Personhood Act seeks to end all abortions, including those that would terminate pregnancies that result from rape or incest. As The State reported, the bill would “extend legal rights to fertilized eggs at the moment of conception.”

This component is one of the most controversial portions of the legislation. The bill’s proponent, Richard Cash, responded to a theoretical example in which an 11-year-old was impregnated after a rape: “If a child is raped, yes, that is a horrible act,” Cash said. “Two wrongs don’t make a right. You cannot erase the rape by killing the child. The child is an innocent person.”

This legislation is part of larger efforts to restrict access to abortion and define when life begins. Abortions after 20 weeks have been banned in South Carolina since 2016. The Personhood Act is supported by Governor Henry McMaster, who stated during his State of the State speech in January: “I believe that human life begins at conception. That’s why, in August, I directed state agencies to stop providing state funds to abortion clinics.” He went on to say that “this right to life is the most precious of rights, and the most fragile. We must never let it be taken for granted.”

There will now be a full South Carolina Senate vote on the bill, which Democrats oppose. Of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the vote was divided between parties, with one Republican abstaining.

Prior points of contention raised included the issue of eggs in fertility treatments, and abortions during medical emergencies. An amendment was added that accounts for abortions performed in case of medical emergencies; however, the language around this is vague. As The Hill reported, it “would make an exception for ‘unintended’ death if the doctor makes ‘reasonable medical efforts’ to save the life of both the mother and child.”

The amendment to the bill does not address fertility treatments like IVF. As the Greenville News reported, Cash said fertilized eggs should not be thrown away, but that the Personhood Act does not address IVF.

Democrat Thomas McElveen said there are too many unknowns in regards to the legislation. “I don’t think the authors of this bill and the authors of this amendment have considered the consequences,” McElveen said.

In addition to the previous ban on abortions after 20 weeks, there is another piece of embattled legislation currently in committee, titled the South Carolina Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act. The bill seeks to outlaw an abortion procedure that, as The State reported, “doctors consider the safest method of second-trimester abortions.” Planned Parenthood Votes! South Atlantic has been calling for opposition to the legislation.

While the new legislation continues to infringe on reproductive choice, it’s part of a much longer political plan to push back against Roe V. Wade—the landmark case marking its 45th anniversary.

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Emily C. Bell is a news writer at AlterNet.