Abortion bans fail in conservative South Carolina, Nebraska

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Abortion bans in Nebraska And South Carolina failed to advance in close votes amid heated debates among Republicans, confusing conservatives who have dominated both legislatures, and further exposing the abortion rift within the GOP.

In Nebraska, where abortion is banned after 20 weeks of pregnancy, an attempt to ban abortion at around six weeks of pregnancy fell one vote short of breaking a filibuster. As the final vote was cast, cheers erupted outside the Legislative Chamber as opponents of the bill waved signs and chanted, “Whose House? Our house!”

In South Carolina, lawmakers voted 22 to 21 to postpone a near-total abortion ban for the rest of the year. Republican Senator Sandy Senn has criticized Majority Leader Shane Massey for repeatedly “pulling us off a cliff on abortion.”

“The only thing we can do, if all of you, you men in the Chamber, metaphorically keep hitting women by bringing up abortion over and over again, is we hit you back with our words,” she said.

Nebraska’s proposal, backed by Republican Gov. Jim Pillen, is unlikely to advance this year. And in South Carolina, where abortion remains legal up to 22 weeks of gestation, the vote was the third time since the US Supreme Court that a near-total abortion ban has failed in the Republican-led Senate chamber conversely Roe v. calf last summer.

Katie Glenn, the state policy director of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, called the failure of the two proposed abortion bans disappointing.

“It’s a sign that legislation is difficult and there are a lot of pieces that all have to fit together,” Glenn said.

The most staunch supporters of the bans have promised political retaliation.

Since the fall of Roe, both states have become something of a regional haven as they have watched neighboring states enact tougher abortion bans. Conservative lawmakers have bitterly made this observation in Nebraska, which has a long history as leader in abortion restrictions. In 2010, it became the first state in the nation to ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Most galling for some Republicans, the pushback is coming from inside the House. The Nebraska law fell through on Thursday when Republican Sen. Merv Riepe, an 80-year-old former hospital administrator, refused to give it the crucial 33rd vote needed to move forward. Riepe was an original co-signer of the bill but later expressed concern that a six-week ban might not give women enough time to know they are pregnant.

When his fellow Republicans rejected an amendment he offered to extend the proposed ban to 12 weeks and add an exception for fatal fetal abnormalities, Riepe cited his own pick last year against a Democrat who put abortion rights at the heart of her campaign. Its winning margin fell from 27 percentage points in the May primary, held before Roe’s ouster, to under 5 percentage points in the general election.

“Had my opponent had more time, more money and more exposure, she could have won. It made me realize how critical abortion will be in 2024,” he said. “We must embrace the future of reproductive rights.”

Riepe and some Republicans across the country have found evidence that abortion bans are unpopular with a majority of Americans. A nationwide poll by AP VoteCast of 2022 voters found that only about 1 in 10 midterm voters — including Republicans — believe abortion should be “illegal in all cases.” Overall, a majority of voters said abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Among them are nearly 9 out of 10 Democrats and about 4 out of 10 Republicans.

A July poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed Republicans are broadly opposed to abortion “for whatever reason” and after 15 weeks of pregnancy. But only 16% of Republicans say abortion in general should be “illegal in all cases.”

FILE PHOTO: Protesters gather at the South Carolina House as members debate a new near-total abortion ban with no exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest at the Columbia State Legislature, South Carolina, U.S., August 30, 2022. REUTERS/Sam Wolves
FILE PHOTO: Protesters gather at the South Carolina House as members debate a new near-total abortion ban with no exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest at the Columbia State Legislature, South Carolina, U.S., August 30, 2022. REUTERS/Sam Wolves

Nonetheless, Republican politicians who defy party leadership on abortion can be the target of political retaliation. Backlash against Riepe was swift, with public rebukes from the governor and other Republican lawmakers. Abortion opponents called for his immediate resignation. And the Nebraska Republican Party issued a statement warning that Riepe would be censored.

“The organizations and individuals that contributed to the defeat of a core Republican value have been given due recognition by this party’s leadership. “Vigilance in the citizen” applies now more than ever,” the statement said.

Riepe did not return a message Friday asking for comment on the backlash.

Likewise, some of the Republican holdouts in South Carolina announced last week that they had received anatomical spine figures from an anti-abortion group, which urged them to “grow a spine” and enact a ban from conception.

The South Carolina vote came with days remaining in a session held shortly after the state’s highest court overturned a 2021 law banning abortions if cardiac activity is detected about six weeks into the pregnancy. Since then, both houses have pushed abortion bans at different stages — a disagreement that Massey, the Senate Majority Leader, hoped to resolve by considering the tougher House bill.

Frustrated after his latest attempt to break the impasse, Massey issued a warning for the ban’s fiercest Republican opponent.

“The answer to Senn. Senn will happen in 2024,” Massey told reporters after the vote, referring to next year’s election.

14 states have banned abortions at all stages of pregnancy. Four other states have bans during pregnancy that block enforcement by courts. Most of these bans were enacted in anticipation of Roe’s repeal, and most have no exceptions for rape or incest.

In Utah, a judge heard on Friday a request from Planned Parenthood delaying implementation of a nationwide ban on abortion clinics due to come into effect next week. Planned Parenthood argues that a state law passed this year will effectively end abortion access statewide if clinics are no longer able to apply for the licenses they have historically relied on to operate.

in North Dakota, Gov. Doug Burgum signed a ban Monday This has narrow exceptions: Abortion is legal in pregnancies caused by rape or incest, but only in the first six weeks of pregnancy. Abortions later in pregnancy are only allowed in certain medical emergencies. The North Dakota law is intended to replace a previous ban, which will not be enforced while a state court weighs its constitutionality.

And on Friday, Tennessee’s Republican Gov. Bill Lee reversed course and signed a relaxation of the state’s strict abortion ban into law. That change came after several high-profile Republican lawmakers warned earlier in the session that doctors and patients are at high risk under Tennessee’s so-called trigger law, arguing that the law lacked clear exceptions when a doctor is offering abortion services may.

Pollard reported from Columbia, South Carolina. 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 brings journalists into local newsrooms to cover undercover topics.

This story has been corrected to show that the Nebraska and South Carolina votes blocked the promotion, not the passage, of abortion legislation; and that 14 states, not 13, now have abortion bans.

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