S.C. Senate panel OKs end of abortion coverage for rape, incest victims

The State (Columbia, S.C.)February 2, 2012 

The South Carolina state insurance plan — which covers state employees, and teachers and local government workers who opt to join — would not pay for abortions in cases of rape or incest if a state Senate panel has its way.

The proposed change, if it becomes law, would mean the state would only pay for abortions if the life of the mother is in danger. It is a departure from the federal Hyde Amendment, which for 30 years has set the standard for limiting government funding of abortions to cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother.

Three Republican state senators – David Thomas and Mike Fair, both of Greenville, and Kevin Bryant of Anderson – voted for the change. Two Democrats – Brad Hutto of Orangeburg and Floyd Nicholson of Greenwood – voted against it.

The proposal, approved by a Senate subcommittee Wednesday, still faces a long process to become law. It must pass a Senate committee today, then pass the full Senate and the S.C. House. Then, it would need the signature of Gov. Nikki Haley. However, the Senate, House and governor’s office are controlled by Republicans, who, as a party, oppose abortion.

“We have a child, we have a human being in the mother’s womb. And that human being has rights,” Bryant said after the meeting. “If you want to execute somebody, let’s execute the rapist. I’ve tried doing that and will continue to.”

The exclusion for rape and incest also would apply to private insurance plans offered in South Carolina as part of President Barack Obama’s controversial health-care reform law. Those health plans, called state health exchanges, don’t exist yet, and they might not ever exist, depending on how the U.S. Supreme Court rules this summer.

“It is unfair for someone that’s paying insurance premiums for their money to go toward ending the life of an innocent child in the womb,” Bryant said.

Originally, the Senate proposal also would have banned insurance coverage of fertility treatments, including in-vitro fertilization, a process that can lead to the destruction of unused embryos. But senators voted to remove that portion of the bill.

“The goal was to prevent the insurance company from having to cover those things. But the committee was kind of going down the road (of saying) the insurance company would not cover those things,” said Oran Smith, executive director of the Palmetto Family Council, which opposes abortion.

If workers covered by the state health insurance plan want rape-and-incest coverage, they would have to buy a supplemental insurance plan. But, Hutto said, no such supplemental plan exists, leading him to call the bill “discriminatory toward women and mean-spirited.”

“Nobody is expecting to get raped or to have their children the victim of incest or sexual assault,” Hutto said. “If you’ve been a victim of rape or incest, you’ve already been victimized once. You don’t need the state of South Carolina coming in and victimizing you a second time because of somebody’s political beliefs, and that’s exactly what this does.”

The bill now heads to the full Senate Medical Affairs Committee, scheduled to meet today at 9:30 a.m. The committee is made up of 10 Republicans and seven Democrats.

“That’s cruel and heartless,” Elaine Faithful, coordinator for the S.C. Coalition on Healthy Family, said of Wednesday’s Senate panel vote. “We will not stop fighting them the entire way.”

To read more, visit www.thestate.com.

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