COLUMBIA — Another abortion fight is looming as part of the debate on South Carolina’s 2012-13 budget, on a funding question that hasn’t been an issue for at least six years.
A Senate panel on Tuesday approved a budget clause eliminating a woman’s ability to get an abortion through the state health plan if she’s a victim of rape or incest.
On a 3-0 vote, the panel left only one exception to the ban on abortions through state insurance: when the mother’s life is in jeopardy.
Sen. Ken Bryant said he wants to protect the rights of the fetus. Opponents argue such a move brings more trauma for crime victims, but Bryant says the fetus shouldn’t be harmed, too.
“The unborn child in the womb has a right to life,” said Bryant, R-Anderson, wearing a pin of tiny footprints on his lapel,
representing the size of a fetus’ feet at 10 weeks.
It’s clearly not a fiscal issue for Bryant, who has fought for the provision for years.
There have been no insurance-covered abortions for rape or incest for at least six years, according to data from the state Budget and Control Board.
The state plan covered 55 abortions from 2006 to 2011 – six to preserve the mother’s life, 48 after the fetus died and one to save the mother which led to a live birth, according to the agency overseeing the insurance program.
Under state law, removal of a dead fetus is not considered an abortion, so those situations would be unaffected by Bryant’s proposal.
The three current exceptions for covered abortions are allowed only for a female employee or spouse on the health plan and do not extend to their children, no matter what their age or circumstance, according to the agency.
Rep. Todd Rutherford, who is known to passionately oppose anti-abortion proposals on the House floor, said that the Senate will argue the issue without a single woman in the debate. South Carolina is the only state with an all-male Senate.
“The Republicans continue their assault on women and their reproductive rights,” said Rutherford, D-Columbia. “When will it stop?”
Bryant’s proposal will head to the full Senate Finance Committee, which is putting together its version of the 2012-13 state spending plan this week. Senate floor debate on the budget is expected in mid-May.
Oran Smith, of the Palmetto Family Council, said that his faith-based advocacy group would prefer Bryant’s proposal but that it won’t push the issue.
The House approved a similar clause during an overnight budget debate in 2010, but the Senate removed it. The chamber has traditionally followed the federal Hyde Amendment. The provision, initially passed by Congress in 1976, bans the use of taxpayer funds for abortion under Medicaid except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.
Statewide, the number of abortions has been decreasing, from nearly 7,200 in 2008 to about 6,500 in 2010, the latest year numbers are available, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.