What are the chances of S.C. imposing death penalty for abortions?

A bill proposed at the South Carolina State House is making headlines across the country.
Published: Mar. 17, 2023 at 6:18 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A bill proposed at the South Carolina State House is making headlines across the country.

It could impose the death penalty on women who get abortions – and it has more than a dozen sponsors.

Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey said there’s no way South Carolina will enact the law.

“I don’t want to scare people out in the public,” said Massey, R-Edgefield. “This has very, very little support. It has zero chance at passing.”


But a decades-old part of state code does criminalize women who illegally get abortions.

Right now, that’s after about five-and-a-half months into a pregnancy

Penalties for the misdemeanor charge escalate to up to two years in prison.

An analysis by a California-based abortion access advocacy group found at least four women have been charged in the past 20 years under South Carolina’s self-managed abortion ban.

That includes a woman in Greenville last month.

“South Carolina is actually one of two states in the entire nation that has criminal penalties for self-managing an abortion,” said Ashley Lidow of the Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network.

Earlier this year, Senate Republicans passed a ban on most abortions after around six weeks into a pregnancy.

In that bill, senators also included a provision to repeal that existing part of state code that criminalizes women who get abortions.

“We wanted to make that definitive statement,” Massey said. “That’s not what we’re going at. We wanted to stop abortion, but we weren’t trying to put women in jail, women who were in desperate situations, in jail.”

Last month, House Republicans passed their own abortion bill, a ban starting at conception.

While that bill did not add any new criminal charges for those who get abortions, lawmakers also voted down an amendment to repeal the criminalization already in the law.

The House is where the new bill — the one that could impose the death penalty — is filed.

In a statement, Republican Speaker of the House Murrell Smith said: “The House has no intentions of taking this bill up. When the House passed pro-life legislation earlier this year, we made it very clear we were not in the business of criminalizing women.”

Democratic Rep. Heather Bauer said earlier this week she plans to soon file another bill that would decriminalize getting an abortion.

“We know in South Carolina, with supermajorities, where there’s a will, there’s a way,” Ashley said. “They can pass this law if they want to. They’ve all said they want to protect women. I would like to see it happen.”

Massey says he’s open to passing decriminalization but also believes lawmakers need to pass tighter restrictions on the procedure.

At present, the House and Senate remain at an impasse between their two abortion bills — the ban from conception and the ban from six weeks — with neither chamber taking up the other’s bill.