South Carolina state Sen. Katrina Shealy (R) proposed antiabortion legislation in four of the five legislative sessions that have taken place since she was first elected a decade ago. But on Wednesday, she lashed out at her Republican colleagues for trying to pass an abortion bill that would eliminate exceptions for rape and incest victims.
“Yes, I’m pro-life,” Shealy said. “I’m also pro-life for the mother, the life she has with her children who are already born. I care about the children who are forced into adulthood that was made up by a legislature full of men so they can take a victory lap and feel good about it.”
“It disgusts me,” she added.
South Carolina senators are considering a near-total ban on abortion starting at fertilization. It would be an even more severe restriction than the one they passed last year that went into effect in late June, which prohibits abortion at about six weeks when doctors can detect a fetal heartbeat. The state Supreme Court voted last month to temporarily block the ban.
Shealy is one of three Republican women in the Senate. All of them said that, without exceptions for rape and incest, they won’t support their colleagues’ bill.
The Senate adjourned Wednesday night without a vote but is scheduled to reconvene Thursday morning. If the bill clears the Senate, it will go back to the House, which last week approved a version that included exceptions for rape and incest until the 12th week of pregnancy.
Shealy is not the only South Carolina Republican typically supportive of antiabortion measures to express doubts about the strict abortion proposals. On Aug. 16, state Rep. Neal Collins said he regretted voting last year to ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected.
About two weeks after the six-week ban took effect, Collins said, a doctor called to tell him about a 19-year-old woman who’d recently arrived at the emergency room 15 weeks pregnant. Her water broke, the fetus was nonviable and the standard of care called for an abortion.
But, since there was a heartbeat, the hospital’s lawyers told the doctors they couldn’t approve one. They discharged the woman instead, leaving her with a greater than 50 percent chance of losing her uterus and a 10 percent chance of developing a life-threatening infection.
“That weighs on me,” Collins said. “I voted for that bill. These are affecting people.”
Shealy also voted to ban abortions after six weeks. In fact, she co-sponsored the bill, telling her colleagues during a floor debate last year that the legislation “protects the life of the unborn with a heartbeat.”
On Wednesday — about a year-and-a-half later — she found herself denouncing the new antiabortion legislation and scolding her male colleagues for trying to pass it. In doing so, she told them that women are smart enough to run households and businesses, to take care of children and aging parents.
“The only thing that we are not smart enough to do is take care of our own bodies. We need men in government, not medical professionals, to do that,” she said sarcastically, adding, “The South Carolina legislature — we know best.”
State Sen. Penry Gustafson echoed Shealy from the floor a few minutes later. The Republican said she was against abortion and wished that no one had sex before marriage and that pregnancies were always wanted. But, Gustafson added, she lives in “Realville,” where she acknowledges that’s not reality. She also challenged fellow Republicans to consider mothers’ rights.
Gustafson maligned the bill as “wishful-thinking legislation.”
“This bill does not recognize or even acknowledge another right besides the right of the baby,” Gustafson said. “So, do we women have no autonomy over our own bodies? Are we simply baby machines?”
Then she asked other senators to weigh possible health emergencies. What if a woman is carrying a dead fetus? What if someone has an ectopic pregnancy that could threaten their life? What if an 11-year-old girl gets raped and impregnated?
“Well, that’s just too bad, according to this bill,” Gustafson said.
Sandy Senn, the third Republican woman in the Senate and the only one who voted against the six-week ban passed last year, mocked her male colleagues for calling a special session to address the ban and presuming that “women and families need your guidance because y’all know better than them.”
“You cannot legislate morality, you cannot tell people who to sleep with, you cannot tell people who to marry and you cannot tell women what to do with their own bodies, try as you might.”
Senn warned them that passing the ban could come with consequences in November’s election. “This issue is huge,” she said, adding, “You don’t think that women will vote single-issue on something like this?”
“Because they will.”