'Pro-Life' Republican Warns GOP That Abortion Is 'Political Minefield'

One of the primary sponsors of South Carolina's controversial "fetal heartbeat" abortion bans said that the state's current efforts to effectively ban abortions with no exceptions for rape or incest could present a "political minefield" for Republicans entering the 2022 midterms.

In a lengthy statement to constituents Tuesday, South Carolina state Representative Bill Taylor—considered one of the state's biggest anti-abortion legislators—called efforts to further restrict abortion in the Palmetto State a "political minefield," harkening to a decision by Kansas voters to keep constitutionally guaranteed protections for abortion in their state as a symbol that a full-on repeal of abortion rights could be a risky proposition for the GOP entering the fall.

"It is a political minefield," Taylor wrote. "The impact of ideologues on this week's abortion debate is evident. Those seeking to ban abortions in South Carolina hold bedrock beliefs and stand firmly on their religious, political, or ideological views. I pray that common sense and compromise will descend on our debate and that legislators will fully consider the voices of all citizens, not just those yelling the loudest."

Taylor, who said he "readily accepts the label pro-life," issued his statement shortly before members of the South Carolina House of Representatives were scheduled to hold the first of a series of floor debates on a bill proposing to ban all abortions in the state, including in cases of rape or incest.

SC Statehouse
Above, an exterior view of the South Carolina State House in Columbia. Republican State Representative Bill Taylor, who is ardently anti-abortion, warned the GOP that abortion is a "political minefield." Getty Images North America

Prior to the ruling, South Carolina already had some of the nation's strictest abortion limitations in place and had committed hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funds to defend the law in state court.

The new ban would go even further, aiming to "end the practice of abortion as birth control" in the state by removing all exceptions for rape and incest, bill sponsor John McCravy said in an August 24 hearing at the statehouse. Abortions would only be allowed in an instance to save the mother's life, and only after the fetus had been removed—alive—from the womb.

"Most of the people of South Carolina agree that terminating life for mere convenience is wrong," McCravy said on the House floor Tuesday. "The number one thing this bill does not do is to endanger the health care of women in any way.

"In fact, this is the number one misconception we found repeated in the public hearings, and that somehow women's health care would be endangered by this law. Nothing, and absolutely nothing, could be farther from the truth."

As the bill drew closer to the House in recent weeks, however, South Carolina Republicans began to distance themselves from their previously steadfast positions on abortion. Polling released the day of the first debate on the bill by the Trafalgar Group showed broad support for some degree of abortion access in South Carolina, with just 17 percent of respondents in support of a ban without exceptions except to save the life of the mother.

Governor Henry McMaster, who previously told reporters he personally supported a ban on abortion without exceptions, cast doubt on a similar bill's viability in the Senate, and has framed existing exceptions in state law as "reasonable."

Republican Neal Collins told colleagues in an earlier committee meeting he would be unable to support a stricter ban on abortions after sharing a story of a constituent who could have potentially died as a result of the fetal heartbeat act he'd supported.

Prior to Tuesday's floor debate others, like Republican Nathan Ballentine, issued statements steeling themselves against the potential political ramifications of voting against a bill with no exceptions, saying their constituents did not support stripping exceptions from the law.

"I've always been endorsed by pro-life organizations, and I'm proud of that," he said in a video posted to his social media pages ahead of the vote. "But apparently when we take up this debate, I've been told that if we vote for any exceptions, we're going to lose that endorsement. That's fair. I'll live with that. I don't do it for endorsements, I do this job to represent the people [in my district]. And I think I've done a good job of that."

Hardline conservatives in the South Carolina Freedom Caucus, however, have pushed for an even stronger bill beyond the current proposal and said they would accept nothing less from Republicans claiming to be pro-life who failed to support the ban.

"The time is now to protect every innocent human life," the caucus said in a statement posted to its Twitter page. "We call on every legislator who campaigned on a pro-life platform to follow through on their promises to the people of South Carolina."

When a group of moderate Republicans introduced an amendment to the bill proposing exceptions to the bill for rape and incest Tuesday afternoon, Democrats joined Republican hardliners in rejecting the amendment, likely in an effort to force moderates to decide whether to support an abortion ban without exceptions.

"I respect that this is not a place where we're all going to agree," Republican Micah Caskey, a sponsor of the amendment whose committee advanced the proposed abortion ban earlier this month. "I am however profoundly disappointed that when the opportunity was presented, members of this chamber chose to play political games."

After the bill failed to pass on a bipartisan basis late into the afternoon Tuesday, exceptions for rape and incest up to 12 weeks of pregnancy were ultimately added to the bill by a voice vote, clearing the way for Republicans who previously voted to reject the bill, including Collins and Caskey, to reverse their vote and advance the measure to the Senate.

Update 08/31/22, 9:10 a.m. ET: This article was updated to include that exceptions for rape and incest up to 12 weeks of pregnancy were added to the bill.