The South Carolina Senate Judiciary Subcommittee voted 3-2 Thursday to approve the "Pregnant Women's Protection Act," a measure that would expand the state's "Stand Your Ground" law to permit pregnant women to use deadly force in defense of an unborn child, beginning at conception.
Opponents of the bill, sponsored by state Sen. Katrina Shealy (R), said the legislation is redundant under the state’s existing "Stand Your Ground" law, arguing that no situation exists in which an unborn child would be threatened when the mother was not.
Pro-choice advocates also condemned the measure as a back-door effort to ban abortions by defining an "unborn child" as "the offspring of human beings from conception until birth."
"There is some evidence that abortion opponents have been pursuing fetal homicide laws because they hope it will undermine abortion rights," Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at reproductive health non-profit Guttmacher Institute, told ThinkProgress on Thursday. "It seems to be part of their overall strategy."
Currently, at least 23 states maintain fetal homicide laws expanding the prosecution of crimes against pregnant women to include the earliest stages of pregnancy, including "any state of gestation," "conception" or "fertilization" in Kansas, Mississippi and Pennsylvania, respectively.
"No one wants to deny someone the right to defend themselves if they're being attacked," Nash added. "But the question is how to do that effectively -- and without going down the path of granting personhood to fetuses, which could run into the right to abortion."
In March, state Rep. Harold Mitchell (D), backed by former law enforcement officials and 17 other co-sponsors, introduced a bill to repeal South Carolina’s controversial "Stand Your Ground" law.
The proposal would eliminate an individual's right to apply deadly force against someone perceived as a threat in public spaces, limiting the "Stand Your Ground" legal defense to those defending their homes, vehicles and businesses.
"'Stand your ground' is 'last man standing,'" Mitchell, chairman of the state Legislative Black Caucus, said in March.