South Carolina Republican lawmakers are backpedaling away as fast as possible from a bill that would make abortion punishable by the death penalty, one of the strictest anti-abortion measures that has been proposed since the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization last year.
The South Carolina Prenatal Equal Protection Act, which was introduced in mid-February, would have established that human life begins at fertilization. It further held that an abortion could be considered a homicide. In South Carolina, a person convicted of murder is subject to the death penalty or a minimum of 30 years in prison.
But the bill has become too hot for even some of its supporters to handle. Of the bill’s 24 original co-sponsors, nine have yanked their support in the past few weeks, following a massive outcry on social media. Several explained they did not want to criminalize people who get abortions. One, Representative Brandon Guffey, claimed he had not read the bill thoroughly before signing on.
“I did not read into the bill far enough to be aware that it included death penalty,” he said in a Facebook post. “I read through it, but I did not click on the code that it linked to stating that a woman should get the death penalty.”
Guffey pulled his name from the list of sponsors on Thursday. In his Facebook post, he explained he is “pro life but that includes the life of the mother.” He also said he supports other bills that restrict abortion access in South Carolina.
The Prenatal Equal Protection Act has yet to be considered by a committee, but one representative told NBC News that party leadership had made clear the measure was “dead on arrival” and would never make it to the House floor. Republican Senator Shane Massey, the Senate majority leader, also tweeted last week the bill had “zero chance of passing.”
South Carolina currently allows abortion up to 20 weeks; Republicans in the state have tried repeatedly since Roe v. Wade was overturned to cut back access to the procedure. The state Senate passed a bill in February that banned abortion after six weeks, before many people even know they are pregnant, but included exceptions for rape, incest, fatal fetal anomalies, and the pregnant person’s life—up to a generous 12 weeks.
Republican-led states have been rushing to restrict abortion access since the Supreme Court rolled back the nationwide right to the procedure. Some states seem to be competing for who can pass the strictest measures, while others are trying to actively circumvent the will of the people in banning abortion.
That this draconian South Carolina bill is shuddering slowly to a halt is a welcome development, but it’s also a pretty grim reminder of how low the bar has become that “not sentencing people to death for getting a normal medical procedure” is good news.