On Thursday, South Carolina’s Senate Judiciary Subcommittee voted 3-2 to approve the “Pregnant Women’s Protection Act,” a provision that would expand the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law to give pregnant women the right to use deadly force in defense of an “unborn child”, starting at conception.

The state’s current “Stand Your Ground” law permits the use of deadly force in the protection of oneself or others against the perceived “imminent peril of death or great bodily injury,” but state legislators in South Carolina argue that the law is not broad enough. State Senators Chip Campsen and Greg Hembree are among those who believe that the current SYG laws don’t fully extend to pregnant women because they could sustain serious injury that does not put them at “peril of death” but could put their fetus in such jeopardy.

This bill, sponsored by state Sen. Katrina Shealy (R), has numerous opponents arguing that this measure is superfluous legislation as the current SYG law encompasses a pregnant woman’s right to defend her fetus. Democratic state Sen. Brad Hutto has asked supporters of the measure to give just one example of how the life of an unborn child could be threatened when the life of the mother is not.

Opponents of the legislation question the stated purpose of the bill, claiming that it is merely a back-door effort to grant constitutional rights to “unborn children” from the moment of conception, citing the bill’s failure to use the words “embryo” and “fetus.” The “Pregnant Women’s Protection Act” reads:

“A pregnant woman is justified in using physical force or deadly physical force against another person to protect her unborn child if, under the circumstances, she has a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury to herself or her unborn child.”

The legislation defines the word “pregnant” as “the female reproductive condition of having an unborn child in the female’s body.” And it defines the phrase “unborn child” as “the offspring of human beings from conception until birth.” It does seem hard to argue that this legislation is seeking to “undermine abortion rights,” as Elizabeth Nash puts it, state issues manager at Guttmacher Institute, “it seems to be part of their overall strategy.” Nash is not the only one holding this concern.  As an article at Public Health Watch states:

“The bill’s wording is no accident: the Pregnant Women’s Protection Act is based on model legislation by the anti-choice organization Americans United for Life. Coincidentally, the Senate subcommittee also heard testimony on a separate personhood bill on the same day — one “that would outlaw all abortions and most contraception by giving legal rights to fertilized eggs,” according to the Aiken Standard.”

None who oppose this legislation argue against a pregnant woman’s right to self-defense, and reproductive rights advocates claim that existing law amply provides that right. Opponents of this measure warn that granting fetuses more legal protections and redefining life as beginning with conception would only serve to rescind current reproductive rights; namely by opening the door to reexamine current abortion legislation.

Given the easily discernable objectives of pro-life advocates, arguing against clandestine motives for this bill would be a hard sell. Anti-abortion activists have been seeking to give all unborn children more rights under the law since the issue of abortion first took roots, but it seems odd that any supposed small government supporters of the right would support increased government legislation, even in an attempt to increase the scope of fetal personhood under the law.

Disregarding my personal feelings on abortion, this proposed legislation in South Carolina reeks of desperation. The GOP has seemingly failed to repeal abortion rights, so they have taken to surreptitious lawmaking instead. Not the sort of behavior one would expect to see from the party that claims to be the resistance of government expansion.