Demonstrators in Columbia, South Carolina rally for abortion rights

Demonstrators in Columbia, South Carolina rally for abortion rights on February 17, 2021.

(Photo: Sean Rayford/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

South Carolina Bill to Execute People Who Have Abortions Gets Support From 21 Republicans

"Executing women is not fringe GOP," said one human rights lawyer. "It's your horrifically mainstream 'pro life' GOP."

A new pro-forced pregnancy proposal in the South Carolina General Assembly that would make people who obtain abortion care eligible for the death penalty was portrayed as coming from the fringes of the Republican Party by one GOP lawmaker—but with 21 state Republicans backing the legislation, critics said the idea is representative of the party's anti-choice agenda.

Proposed by state Rep. Rob Harris, the South Carolina Prenatal Equal Protection Act of 2023 would amend the state's criminal code to give a zygote, or fertilized egg, "equal protection under the homicide laws of the state"—meaning obtaining an abortion could be punishable by the death penalty.

The bill does not include an exception for people whose pregnancies result from rape or incest, and political commentator Brian Tyler Cohen noted its language is vague enough to suggest that some people who suffer miscarriages could become eligible for the death penalty.

The exceptions provided by Harris include only people who are "compelled" by others to have an abortion against their will or people whose continued pregnancies carry the threat of "imminent death or great bodily injury," although numerous cases since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade have demonstrated how exceptions to protect a pregnant person's life often put their safety at risk.

U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), a rape survivor, spoke on the House floor last Friday about the bill and warned that its lack of exceptions for rape survivors was part of a "deeply disturbing" trend.

"To see this debate go to the dark places, the dark edges," said Mace, "has been deeply disturbing to me as a woman, as a female legislator, as a mom, and as a victim of rape."

But with nearly two dozen co-sponsors, said human rights lawyer Qasim Rashid, the proposal appears to come from the "horrifically mainstream 'pro-life' GOP."

"It's not just one lone extremist," wrote Tessa Stuart at Rolling Stone.

Harris and his co-sponsors—seven of whom have requested to have their names removed from the legislation as it's garnered national attention—are just the latest policymakers to propose punishments for people who obtain abortions. Alabama's attorney general said in January that residents should be prosecuted for taking abortion pills, and former President Donald Trump said as a presidential candidate in 2016 that "there has to be some form of punishment" for abortion patients before walking back the statement.

A number of Texas lawmakers have proposed making people who obtain abortions eligible for capital punishment in recent years.

"If this surprises you," said historian Diana Butler Bass of the South Carolina proposal, "you haven't been paying attention."

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