S.C. lawmakers will go into overtime on abortion, other issues

Published: May. 11, 2023 at 2:52 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. - Thursday was supposed to be the final day of the regular session for the South Carolina General Assembly.

But debates over abortion, guns and bond reform along with the always slow-to-resolve discussions about the state budget appear to have the session going into overtime next week.

Before the legislative session ends each year, the House and Senate typically put an agreement in place that outline the reasons they can return to Columbia – like finalizing the budget.

Thursday was the last day of South Carolina's legislative session, but the General Assembly's work is far from over.

They don’t have such an agreement in place this year, so that means the governor can call them back here to the State House.

And that’s what he plans to do next week – for another abortion debate.

“We are going to come back next Tuesday, May 16, and be prepared to be here as long as it takes,” said House Speaker Murrell Smith, R-Sumter.

For the past 20 years, lawmakers have passed what’s called a sine die resolution, ending the regular session at its mandated day and time with a set of issues they can return and take up later as they wish. It was abortion in 2022 and redistricting in 2021 along with the perpetual items like the state budget or governor’s vetoes.


This year, the Senate and House couldn’t agree on that resolution, so it will be up to the governor to call the General Assembly back in a special session with no limits on what is discussed.

It’s a lot of power for lawmakers to give up to the governor and hasn’t happened since 2002 because the Republican-dominated Legislature didn’t fully trust the Republican governors before McMaster.

In theory, anything can be dealt with during the special session. But in 2023, only a few outstanding issues are likely to come up as it’s the first year of the two-year sessions and bills stay alive wherever they are in the legislative process until the 2024 session begins.

Top of the list is abortion. A state Supreme Court ruling earlier this year overturned South Carolina’s ban on abortions when cardiac activity can be detected, typically around six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant.

That ruling put the state’s old ban on abortion, around 20 weeks after conception, back in place and the monthly total of abortions has risen from a few hundred to close to 1,000, according to state health data.

House members want a near total ban with exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or if the life of the mother is at risk. The Senate only mustered enough votes for a cardiac ban rewritten in hopes of getting around the state court ruling.

The House has rewritten the Senate bill and will take it up next week. If it passes, the Senate will consider the House changes.

Republicans hold a supermajority in the House – but Democrats are already planning to put up a fight.

This week – the eight female Democratic representatives carried in more than a thousand amendments they say they’ve already drafted on the bill.

On Thursday – House Republicans voted to cut off any additional amendments from being filed – and limit how much time they can debate them and the bill as a whole.

Other issues likely to be considered during the special session are bond reform — which has passed both chambers but differences need to be resolved — stuffer penalties for crimes involving fentanyl and creating a state law making it illegal for a convicted felon to have a gun.

Smith told members they won’t leave until they’re finished.

“We’re not going to be breaking,” he said. “So bring supper, dinner, breakfast, lunch, whatever for days or however long you want to get through amendments, but we’re going to get through that bill and have a final vote on that bill.”