#SCStateHouse: The Abortion Bill Backstory

“Republican” rule in South Carolina continues to unravel …


Nothing is ever cut and dried at the South Carolina State House.  It’s all bait-and-switch maneuvers.  Procedural shell games.  Face-saving masquerading as public policy.

Appearances – not outcomes – have assumed primacy in the Palmetto State.  Whether you stand for something – or accomplish anything – is irrelevant.  It’s all about how you are “seen.”

No one wants to fight for anything, they just want to go back to their constituents and pretend they did.

Such is the sad state of representative government in South Carolina.  And this fundamental disconnect is why the so-called “most conservative state in America” keeps pouring billions of dollars each year into one of America’s most fiscally liberal state governments – where politicians of both parties have perfected the ongoing con of taking more of taxpayers’ money in exchange for steadily worsening outcomes.

Every year it’s the same thing.  And every year it gets a little bit harder on those footing the ever-escalating bill …

Sometimes, though, votes clearly count.  Sometimes, you can break through the clutter of political doublespeak and parliamentary games and arrive at the heart of a matter.

That happened last week in the South Carolina Senate … and the result wasn’t pretty.

Two days ago, we ran a post entitled “Democrats Roll GOP On Abortion Bill.”  In our coverage, we chronicled how odd it was that a party controlling only 40 percent of the chamber (i.e., the Democratic Party) was able to block legislation (H. 3548) that would have banned nearly 6,000 abortions annually in the Palmetto State.  We also noted with curiosity how the “Republican” majority in the S.C. Senate was unable to shut down a filibuster led by Democrat Marlon Kimpson of Charleston, S.C. – yet it was able to shut down a filibuster against a gasoline tax last year led by senator Tom Davis of Beaufort, S.C.

Funny how that works, isn’t it?

Our post took no issue with Kimpson.  We disagree with him (vehemently) on this issue … but we also disagree with many of those on the far right of the pro-life debate.  This particular piece of legislation we would have supported, however, because it would have effectively banned all abortions in the Palmetto State excepting pregnancies conceived via rape or incest – or pregnancies in which there was a clear danger to the health of the mother.

Agree with him or not, though, Kimpson was simply using the procedural means at his disposal to stop a bill to which he objected.  Sitting him down?  That was the job of the GOP majority – which purports to embrace the right to life as one of the central planks of its party platform.

(Click to view)

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

“We believe that the unborn and the new born child have a fundamental right to life which must not be infringed,” the latest edition of the SCGOP platform noted. “Accordingly, we believe that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protection should apply to unborn children. We support the reversal of Roe v. Wade through judicial action or through passage of a Constitutional Human Life Amendment.”

Of course when it came time to actually adhere to this principle … the GOP-controlled Senate couldn’t get it done.

What happened?  A familiar tale.  The past as prologue.  As is the case in regards to so many other issues to which it pays lip service (like limited government and school choice), the GOP simply isn’t united on the right to life.

Had it been united, Kimpson’s filibuster would have easily been shut down – and this legislation would have passed.

Our post was critical (and rightfully so) of “former” Democrats Hugh Leatherman and Luke Rankin – two liberal party-switching politicians who joined with their ideological allies to stonewall the will of the “Republican” majority on this issue.  However, not long after our story ran we were contacted by several state senators who told us Leatherman and Rankin were not the real problem.

According to senators who reached out to us – on the record and on background – these two liberal leaders made it clear from the outset of this debate that they would never under any circumstances vote to end the filibuster of a Democrat (which is pretty ironic considering Leatherman not only voted to end the Davis filibuster last April – he made the procedural motion to sit Davis down).

But we digress …

Right or wrong, Leatherman and Rankin made their positions clear as it related to this debate – and according to their colleagues they stuck to their guns.

“We’re not mad at Luke or Hugh,” one GOP senator told us. “We knew where they were going to be.  We’re mad at Sandy.”

That’s a reference to  Sandy Senn – a freshman “Republican” lawmaker from Charleston, S.C. who according to her colleagues was all over the map on this issue. Earlier this year, Senn was involved in a high-profile spat with Democrats over alleged vote-swapping in the chamber – a fight that nearly resulted in her being censured by the chamber’s liberal leadership.

We defended Senn aggressively during that dust-up (we think she was correct/ courageous to stand up against this corrupt practice) … and several of her GOP colleagues had her back too.

Don’t expect them to back Senn in future, though …

Several senators we spoke with – on the record and on background – were harshly critical of Senn’s conduct during the Democratic filibuster of the abortion bill.

“She’s a liar,” one GOP senator told us bluntly.  “She cannot be counted on for anything.  She has no principles.”

Ouch …

“For all intents and purposes, she’s dead,” this senator added. “Unfortunately for her (constituents), she’s not going to get anything.”

Another senator told us Senn was mentally unstable.

“She’s bat shit crazy,” the senator said. “She truly is.  Everybody talked to her – or tried to talk to her.  But you can’t.  You just can’t talk to her.”

On the record, the backlash against Senn was less vitriolic – and more focused on the policy issue at stake.  Specifically, several of Senn’s colleagues questioned why she would have voted with Democrats throughout the debate – only to flip-flop at the very end and vote with the majority of her fellow “Republican” caucus members.

First, some background …

The initial version of this bill only banned brutal dismemberment abortions – which comprise a small percentage of abortions in the Palmetto State (less than two dozen out of approximately 6,000 performed in 2016, the latest year for which data is available).  Unfortunately, this horrific practice was defended by state senator Brad Hutto (below) – who threatened to file over a hundred amendments to the dismemberment ban.

(Click to view)

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

Hutto’s amendments could have paralyzed the chamber – prolonging the debate for potentially days on end.  This would have threatened the passage of the state budget and several other hot-button bills (i.e. the annual special interest cornucopia).

Basically, Hutto would have used this bill to tie the Senate in knots.

In a position of strength, Hutto proposed the following compromise: If the GOP agreed to make the debate over banning all abortions (except those involving rape, incest or danger to the mother), he would drop all of his amendments.

“Republicans” took the bait.

By a 31-11 vote, the “Hutto compromise” passed – with Senn joining her GOP colleagues (and a handful of “pro-life” Democrats) in fundamentally reframing this issue from a bill that would stop 22 abortions a year to one that would stop nearly 6,000 of them.

Of course Senn quickly signaled her opposition to this new bill – arguing it was too was similar to a personhood bill she opposed earlier this year.

True to her word (initially, at least), Senn voted numerous times with Democrats (including Leatherman and Rankin) in support of Kimpson’s filibuster.  In fact her willingness to join Leatherman and Rankin inspired many Democrats to maintain the Kimpson filibuster – knowing that as long as they remained in the chamber and at least two GOP lawmakers were with them, “Republicans” lacked the votes necessary to sit Kimpson down.

“Her commitment to go against it compelled the Democrats to dig in,” one senator told us.

It also helped turn the proceedings into a liberal cause célèbre, with Democrat gubernatorial frontrunner James Smith appearing in the chamber to lend his support to the minority party’s efforts.

Of course when the GOP finally waved the white flag – acknowledging the bill would have to be sent back to committee (killing it for the year), Senn flip-flopped and voted in support of the pro-life position she’d been opposing for the duration of the debate.

“Why would you vote for the Hutto amendment, then vote (to support the Democratic filibuster) several times, and finally vote for the bill only after you know it’s dead?” state senator Wes Climer (below) asked.  “I don’t understand it. It’s an indefensible position.”

(Click to view)

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

In a “week in review” mailing sent to constituents late last week, Senn did her best to defend the “indefensible.”

According to her, she was prepared to support a ban of dismemberment abortions – even though she argued many of those “occur because the parents have learned of serious birth defects or the life of the mother is at risk.”  As for banning abortions more broadly, Senn wrote that such an approach “went overboard and into the realm of unconstitutionality.”

This would “cost our taxpayers dearly,” forcing the state to wage “a legal battle that we would lose.”

Okay … if that’s true, why did Senn vote to amend the bill so as to make it “unconstitutional” (in her view) in the first place? 

And then, after opposing the amended legislation throughout the debate … why did she flip-flop at the very end and support it?

“I have to admit my own error of allowing the amendment because I voted for it,” Senn wrote in her mailing (.pdf).  “It passed overwhelmingly. But at the time there were more than 100 amendments on the desk.  Senator Hutto then withdrew 80 of his amendments and after the dust settled, no more substantive amendments were made.”

As for voting to support the Democratic filibuster early on, Senn wrote “in this instance, and since we were poised to turn law existing since the mid-70’s on its head and then buying ourselves an expensive trip to the Supreme Court, I felt that the minority deserved to be heard more than just a few hours.”

Finally, as to her flip-flop at the end of the debate, Senn had this to say …

(T)he debate did not really get started until about 1:00 P.M. I along with others refused to vote cloture on the minority the first four times our leader called for it. On the fifth time and after twelve hours (at least I think it was the fifth time but then again it was 1:00 AM by that point and we were all tired) I did vote cloture at the very last minute. By then I had covered up with a blanket, put my earbuds in my ears and started listening to a book on tape. In other words, I needed to hear no more on the topic. It was time to cast the final vote and even with my vote it still was not enough.

Hmmmm ….

While Senn was pilloried by at least half a dozen of her caucus-mates for her inconsistency during the debate, most “Republicans” in the Senate (with the exception of Climer) kept their most hostile remarks about her on background and not for attribution.

Those who did comment on the record indicated the issue was now moot – and that no amount of hand-wringing was going to change that.

“It was a very bitter pill to swallow, but the bottom line is we needed twenty-six votes and we were ultimately only able to get twenty-five,” Davis told us.  “Time to move on.”

Meanwhile S.C. Senate “majority” leader Shane Massey declined to address the issue altogether – which we understand given the circumstances.

Our view?  Senn certainly seems to have some explaining left do regarding how she handled herself during the course of this debate – not to mention some serious fence-mending within her own caucus.  We’ve taken up for her in the past – and likely will in the future – but in this case she has clearly exposed herself to some warranted criticism from her colleagues.

More to the point, “Republicans” remain hopelessly divided in the face of monolithic Democratic resistance- including pro-abortion votes cast by ostensibly pro-life Democrats Darrell Jackson and Kent Williams.

Until that changes, Democrats will continue to comprise a governing majority in the S.C. Senate.



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Banner: Travis Bell Photography

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