Democrats Spent Days Filibustering An Abortion Ban In South Carolina & It Was Dramatic

by Hannah Golden
Jana Birchum/Getty Images News/Getty Images

On Friday, May 4, a major battle over reproductive rights in a state legislature ended with a dramatic finish. South Carolina blocked an abortion ban in the state Senate after a two-day filibuster in a massive upset to Republicans. The bill would have essentially outlawed all abortions in the state, making exceptions for only instances of rape, incest, or danger to the mother or child.

The bill, which was supported by Republicans, had already been approved by the state Senate earlier in the week in a preliminary vote, so it looked all but certain to pass in the official vote. But Friday's vote reversed that course.

Before Friday, Democrats spent two full days in the state house to fight the measure via filibuster — essentially running out the clock by taking the floor during a vote. Members lined up for their turn to speak, according to The State, with some canceling their weekend plans in order to do their part to prevent the bill's passage. One senator, Marlon Kimpson, took the floor for eight hours to start off the marathon of speeches to exhaust the clock. And the stall tactic worked: Republicans came up short of the 26 votes they needed to pass the measure, and the Senate voted to send the bill back with a 24-21 vote at 1 a.m. Friday.

"Senate just recommitted the abortion bill to a committee, likely killing it for the year," tweeted The State's Avery Wilks.

"The abortion ban in SC is no longer," tweeted Kimpson after the vote. "After hours of filibuster, the bill has now been recommitted to committee. Women will continue to have the right to choose and make their own personal decisions about their bodies in consultation with their faimilies [sic] and doctors."

"It's like being down by eight in the bottom of the ninth inning and you're able to get on a hitting streak at the end to pull it out," Democratic State Sen. Mike Fanning said of the hard-fought victory, according to the Post and Courier. "It is mind-boggling and extremely relieving."

"I was surprised," said Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, a Republican running for governor, per The State. "I've never, in 14 years, been here this late two nights in a row where every member was here. It's the first time."

Republican State Sen. Luke Rankin also conceded Democrats' strong show of force. "They came out en masse with no defection," he said.

It was a tense battle, and both abortion rights and anti-abortion advocates had watched as the Senate went head-to-head.

"Sen. Bright Matthews says that women with money will always have access to birth control and abortion, but the low income women of South Carolina will disproportionately suffer," tweeted Planned Parenthood's South Carolina local branch, prior to the vote.

In a statement Thursday, NARAL Pro-Choice America Vice President Adrienne Kimmell called the bill "blatantly unconstitutional" and an attack on Roe v. Wade, adding, "Abortion bans like this fly in the face of our fundamental human rights protected in the constitution, and should be deeply concerning for anyone who believes in the importance of freedom and equality."

The bill would have rendered illegal some 97 percent of the abortions in the state each year, according to The State. Had it passed the Senate, the bill would have gone on to the Republican-held House, where it would almost certainly have passed and proceeded to the governor to be signed into law.

"South Carolina Republicans voted for this unconstitutional measure in the dead of night because they know it can't stand up to the light of day," tweeted former U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez. "As we speak, Democrats are holding the line and fighting to protect a woman's right to choose."

The bill — and the vote's blockage — were both met with a mix of reactions, and many reproductive rights groups cheered the Democrats' work.

With the vote's blockage, the bill was sent back to the medical affairs committee, the Post and Courier reports, by a bipartisan group of lawmakers. But abortion rights advocates nationwide aren't getting too comfy with the win. Friday's victory for Democrats in South Carolina's vote comes as lawmakers in Iowa voted on Wednesday on a wide-ranging abortion ban of their own.