US media targets state abortion bill
Six members of the South Carolina statehouse withdrew their sponsorship from a bill this week, after media coverage portaryed it as wanting to execute women who have abortions. Proposed in January, the bill attracted the attention of major corporate outlets on Monday, resulting in a flurry of near-identical stories condemning it.
The “South Carolina Prenatal Equal Protection Act of 2023” introduced several amendments to the state criminal code, which would define a fertilized egg as a person and prosecute abortion as murder. It was proposed by Spartanburg Republican Rob Harris, a registered nurse and a member of the Freedom Caucus.
The bill went unnoticed for nearly two months, until the regional TV station WBVW reported on it on February 27. Their headline noted that the bill “could make [the] death penalty possible punishment” for abortion, as capital punishment was still on the books in South Carolina.
Five days later, the story was rehashed by Insider – owned by the German transnational conglomerate Axel Springer – whose reporting made the possibility of the death penalty suggested by WBTW a done deal.
On Monday, Rolling Stone claimed that 21 South Carolina Republicans “propose [the] death penalty” for abortions. They quoted Congresswoman Nancy Mace, a South Carolina Republican, who in a floor speech last Friday brought up her own experience as a teenage rape victim to call the bill part of a “deeply disturbing” trend.
Rolling Stone’s coverage was then echoed by USA Today and The Hill. A blogger for MSNBC’s ‘ReidOut’ show went a step further, calling the proposal an example of “right-wing depravity” and pointing out it doesn’t even include exceptions for rape or incest, which he called “a caveat conservatives traditionally trot out to signal empathy as they crusade against abortion.”
The South Carolina statehouse web page for the bill shows that five lawmakers withdrew their sponsorship of the bill on Monday, followed by another one on Tuesday.
Abortion has been a hot-button issue in US politics for decades. Most Republicans condemn it as murder and sinful, while most Democrats insist it’s a healthcare issue while some even defend it as a “sacred” right. In the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, the US Supreme Court declared abortion part of the constitutionally protected right to privacy. That precedent was overturned in June 2022, however, sending the authority to regulate abortion back to individual states.
Current South Carolina law holds that abortion is legal up to 21 weeks and six days of pregnancy. Harris proposed his bill on January 10, shortly after the state Supreme Court struck down a 2021 law that sought to outlaw abortions after six weeks.
South Carolina’s last execution was in 2011. Faced with logistical problems with administering lethal injections, the state has adopted the electric chair as the preferred method of capital punishment, but the courts are currently debating whether that would violate human rights.