MARGERY A. BECK and JAMES POLLARD (Associated Press)
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Abortion bans in deeply conservative Nebraska and South Carolina each fell a single vote short of passing in their legislatures amid heated debates among Republicans, yet another sign that abortion is becoming a difficult issue for the GOP.
As the last vote was cast in Nebraska, where abortion is currently banned after 20 weeks of pregnancy, cheers erupted outside the legislative chamber, with opponents of the bill waving signs and chanting, “Whose house? Our house!”
In South Carolina, Republican Sen. Sandy Senn criticized Majority Leader Shane Massey for repeatedly “taking us off a cliff on abortion.”
“The only thing that we can do when you all, you men in the chamber, metaphorically keep slapping women by raising abortion again and again and again, is for us to slap you back with our words,” she said.
The Nebraska proposal, backed by Republican Gov. Jim Pillen, is unlikely to move forward this year after the bill banning abortion around the sixth week of pregnancy fell one vote short of breaking a filibuster.
And in South Carolina, where abortion remains legal through 22 weeks of pregnancy, the vote marked the third time a near-total abortion ban has failed in the Republican-led Senate chamber since the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade last summer.
The state has increasingly served patients across a region where Republican officials have otherwise curtailed access to abortion. Six Republicans helped block motions to end debate and defeated any chance the bill will pass this year.
Thirteen other states have bans in place on abortion at all stages of pregnancy. They are Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Four other states have bans throughout pregnancy where enforcement is blocked by courts. The majority of those bans were adopted in anticipation of Roe being overturned, and most do not have exceptions for rape or incest.
In Utah, a judge on Friday will consider a request from Planned Parenthood to delay implementing a statewide ban on abortion clinics, set to take effect next week. Planned Parenthood argues a state law passed this year will effectively end access to abortion throughout the state when clinics next week stop being able to apply for the licenses they’ve historically relied on to operate.
In North Dakota, Gov. Doug Burgum signed a ban Monday that has narrow exceptions: Abortion is legal in pregnancies caused by rape or incest, but only in the first six weeks of pregnancy. Abortion is allowed later in pregnancy only in specific medical emergencies.
The North Dakota law is intended to replace a previous ban that is not being enforced while a state court weighs its constitutionality.
Pat Neal, 72, of Lincoln, was among those cheering the Nebraska vote Thursday. She, like others in attendance, expressed shock at the bill’s failure.
“This gives me hope for the future,” she said. “It gives me hope that the direction we’ve been seeing — across the country — could turn around.”
The bill failed to get the crucial 33rd vote when Sen. Merv Riepe, a former hospital administrator from Ralston, abstained. Riepe was a cosigner of the bill but expressed concern this year that a six-week ban might not give women enough time to know they were pregnant.
Riepe introduced a measure Thursday that would have extended the proposed ban to 12 weeks and add to the bill’s list of exceptions any fetal anomalies deemed incompatible with life.
When he received pushback from fellow Republicans, Riepe warned his conservative colleagues they should heed signs that abortion will galvanize women to vote them out of office.
“We must embrace the future of reproductive rights,” he said.
Independent South Carolina Sen. Mia McLeod criticized leaders who prioritized the near-total ban over efforts to make South Carolina the 49th state in the country with a law allowing harsher punishments for violent hate crimes.
McLeod, who shared during a previous abortion debate that she had been raped, said it is unfortunate that women must reveal intimate experiences to “enlighten and engage” men.
“Just as rape is about power and control, so is this total ban,” McLeod said Thursday. “Those who continue to push legislation like this are raping us again with their indifference, violating us again with their righteous indignation, taunting us again with their insatiable need to play God while they continue to pass laws that are ungodly.”
Beck reported from Lincoln, Nebraska. Associated Press writer Freida Frisaro contributed from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
James Pollard is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
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