Women object to South Carolina’s near-total abortion ban

When the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer, advocates on both sides assumed the country would be divided along brightly colored lines: Red states ban abortion entirely and blue states protect it.

This prediction failed to predict the Sister Senators.

The Sisters, as they call themselves, are the women of the South Carolina Senate—the only women, three Republicans, one Independent and one Democratic, in a legislature that ranks 47th among the states in terms of percentage of women. As a caucus, they refuse to allow the legislature to pass a near-total ban on abortion, despite a Republican supermajority.

Three times in eight months, Republican leaders in the chamber have tried to ban abortions starting in pregnancy. Three times the women fought back, even as fellow Republicans threatened primary challenges and anti-abortion activists displayed empty strollers and baby kits harassing women as “baby killers.”

Before the final debate began in April, the anti-abortion group Students for Life dumped gift bags at the offices of the three Republican women that contained plastic forks, the size of infants but intended to encourage women to grow one, with the notes signing, “Babyborn.”

The women backed down, taking the gifts to the podium in the senate hall to declare themselves more resistant. Flanked by the other two Republican women, Senator Katrina Shelley said, “I already have a backbone, but now I have another backup.”

After three days of debate, in which the women spoke for four hours at a time, the Senate leadership admitted—again—that it did not have the votes to pass the ban.

Ms. Shelley, a senior member of the group, said in an interview with the other women around a table in her statehouse office. “They thought we would do what they told us to do.”

But while the men argued that abortion kills babies, the five women insisted that the abortion ban was not meant to save lives but to control women — and that they would not be controlled. They have argued that prohibition reduces women to “baby machines” like “The Handmaid’s Tale” dystopia and have rejected absurd claims from male legislators that women use abortion as a method of contraception.

“I don’t think any woman goes out on a Friday night and has sex and gets pregnant so she can have an abortion the next day,” said Ms. Shelley.

The controversy in South Carolina, a red-hot state where abortion remains legal until now until 22 weeks, shows how much it is not going according to plan now that Rowe’s flip has made the abortion ban a reality rather than a gesture or symbolic idea at a party. platform.

Many Republican-controlled states have banned abortion, largely through bans imposed by a June Supreme Court decision. But states that were expected not to do so were stopped by voters on ballot measures (Kansas and Kentucky), Republican lawmakers (South Carolina and Nebraska) or courts that temporarily blocked the ban, saying it was likely unconstitutional (Utah and Wyoming).

“Pro-life” and “pro-choice” have proven muddy if not increasingly meaningless distinctions. And it turns out that views on abortion are much more nuanced than the red/blue divide: Surveys show that groups who were generally expected to support an abortion ban, Republican women among them, are turning away from wanting to make most abortions illegal. Even in South Carolina, polls show most voters support some abortions and refuse to overturn Roe.

“There has to be a gray area,” said Sen. Penry Gustafson, another Republican.

The three Republican women are white, the other two are black, and they all describe professing a deep religious faith. They are all mothers, many of whom have raised children or supported relatives or other young adults through college, and say their pregnancy experience informs their views on abortion.

All women support the right to abortion, but with some limitations, though they differ on pregnancy limits: Sen. Margie Bright Matthews, a Democrat, and Sen. Mia MacLeod, who left the Democratic Party this year, lean toward legalizing Roe, allowing some the right to abortion. Until the embryo survives, about 24 weeks.

Ms. Gustafson and Sandy Sen, The Third Republic, favor restricting abortion after the first trimester, with exceptions. If it were up to her personally, Ms. Shelley said, she would leave the decision to women, their partners, and their doctors: “Women know what’s best for their bodies.”

However, she and other Republican women describe themselves as pro-life rather than pro-choice. They proudly embrace the state’s Republican creed, which begins “I do not choose to be an ordinary man” and includes a pledge to “think and act for myself.” They also believe that women should be allowed to think and act for themselves, and that most would say the decision about abortion should be left to them.

“There are millions of women who feel like no one has been heard,” Ms. Gustafson said during their hangover last month. “That’s why I’ve been standing here all this time.”

Their positions hardly make them advocates for reproductive rights groups. All three Republicans voted in favor of the six-week ban, which passed the Senate. This is before most women know they are pregnant. Republican women successfully insisted on adding exceptions for medical emergencies or cases of rape, incest, or fatal fetal deformities.

They call it a compromise between bans when pregnant and bills they have put forward that would put the issue of abortion rights to voters on the ballot, or ban abortions after the first trimester, with exceptions. The Republican leadership in the Senate refused to put these measures to a vote.

The House of Representatives refused to vote on the six-week bill, sticking to the ban on pregnancy, but still has until Thursday to do so. Instead, she lobbied the Senate to vote again and again to ban when pregnant. The Senate leadership did so, despite its admission that it did not get the votes.

“If they do it once, that’s one thing,” Ms. Sen said. But then a second, third time. They knew what the outcome would be. They have been forewarned.”

“It’s as if they dared them,” agreed Mrs. Matthews.

“I’m impressed, you’ll get it,” Ms. Sen added. “You will get guilty.”

“We women did not ask for your protection nor do we want it,” she said, addressing her male colleagues on the floor, wearing slippers for comfort during the holdup. “We don’t need her. We don’t subscribe to the ploy that what she really wants is to take care of us.”

Elected in 2020, Ms. Gustafson got her first taste of politics when a friend took her to a tea party gathering in 2016. She’s owned a restaurant and acted in community theater, including a role as Dolly Parton in the classic about strong Southern women, “Steel Magnolia”.

The prohibition when pregnant, she said, “allows nothing for meanness or things we cannot even conceive.” “There are a lot of things that could happen.”

The women got support from one or two Republicans in the room. Others, however, accused them of betraying the party by seeking a ban that was less than one that began at conception.

“I’m not willing to sit back and let the goalposts move about what it means to be pro-life for the Republican Party,” said Senator Richard Cash.

As other states in the region have restricted abortion, Republican women worry that South Carolina is becoming a destination for him. The number of abortions has soared since Rowe flipped, and about half of them are women coming from other states, according to state figures.

The South Carolina legislature is an unexpected place to look for a lot of the talk of women’s rights. It took until 1969 to officially ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave all American women the right to vote in 1920.

Abortion rights advocates were shocked in January when the state’s highest court declared that privacy protections in the state constitution extend to the right to abortion, overturning a six-week ban with limited exceptions.

This opinion was written by the only woman on the court, who has since retired, and was replaced by a man by the legislator. The Republican leadership is trying to pass the new ban for six weeks, hoping that the new court will overturn the decision.

Mrs. Shelley and Mrs. Gustafson both dismissed popular incumbents to win their seats; Running as a candidate against a Republican candidate, Ms. Shelley donned cool, cool sneakers to win. (“I still wear them when I’m going crazy,” she said.) One newspaper at the time accused her of “a burning desire to be loved.”

For three years, she was the only woman in the chamber, and the leaders continued to address the body as “Gentlemen of the Senate.” One Republican colleague said that women should be barefoot and pregnant, not in the legislature, and later told that their women were “less cuts of flesh.”

Now chair of the Veterans and Family Services Committee, Ms. Shelley is the self-described “Mama Hen” of the five women. “Come on, girls,” she said, herding them to a photo, “chop.”

Women lawmakers are still not casual enough to get noticed. “Women!” one of the lobbyists shouted as the quintet passed him on the escalator. “I need to go with you!”

A parent in a northern South Carolina district objected to “The Handmaid’s Tale” in a school library after Ms. Sen mentioned the book during a hold. But she and other senators say most of their constituents agree with them. Older women in particular, Ms. Sen said, sent notes with small donations. “Someone said, This old man is proud of you.”

Women serving in legislative offices paid tribute to them. Someone stopped Mrs. McLeod when she got out of her car on Wednesday. She said, “She said thank you for what you did last week.” “Many of them work for Republican men.”

Ms Matthews added: “They always say, ‘We can’t say what we think’.”

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