In June, 2014, the GOP primary ballot contained two advisory questions. One question was a personhood question, and it asked voters the following: Should Article I, Section 3 of the South Carolina Constitution be amended to include the following language?
The privileges and immunities of citizens of South Carolina and the United States shall not be abridged, so that no person shall be deprived of life without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws. These rights shall extend to both born and pre-born persons beginning at conception.
Over 300,000 ballots were cast in the June, 2014, GOP primary, and almost 79% of the people voted yes on the personhood question.
Pro-life activists and the South Carolina Pastors (SCPA) alliance asked Sen. Lee Bright and Rep. Bill Chumley to introduce identical bills in the legislature that were worded exactly as the advisory question. S719 was introduced on April 28th, 2015, and H4093 was introduced on April 29th, 2015. The purpose of these bills was to put a personhood amendment to the South Carolina Constitution on the general election ballot in November, 2016.
After the bills were introduced, the SCPA sent a letter to every South Carolina Senator and Representative on May 4, 2015, asking them to sign a pledge of support for these bills.
On June 2nd, 2015, the SCPA held a press conference with legislators to promote S719 and H4093. The event was held in the second-floor lobby of the Capitol building, between the Senate and House chambers.
In September, current State Senator Richard Cash formed a non-profit, Personhood South Carolina, to help coordinate efforts to pass S719 and H4093, and began speaking to groups publicly about the personhood amendment project.
In order for the personhood amendment to be on the ballot in November, at least two-thirds of both houses had to pass S719 and H4093 before the legislative session ended in June.
The Senate passed S719 out of Judiciary Committee but the Personhood Constitutional Amendment did not receive “special order,” though it came close. The bill died with the end of the legislative session in June 2016.
In January of 2017, personhood legislation was submitted to the SC Senate, by Senator Kevin Bryant (now Lieutenant Governor) and House of Representatives, by Representative Steven Long. Both the Senate and House bills were referred to their Judiciary Committees. Finally, in late March, Senator Rankin submitted S217 to a five-member subcommittee, chaired by Democrat Senator Margie Bright-Matthews.
On March 30 in Gressette 308, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee heard testimony concerning S217. Among others, Lieutenant Governor Kevin Bryant and Allan Parker of The Justice Foundation, spoke eloquently in support of the bill. S.217 passed favorably out of the subcommittee and was brought to the full Senate Judiciary Committee.
At the final Judiciary meeting of 2017, the bill was carried over.
After vigorous debate, S217 was passed by a 12-9 vote in the full Senate Judiciary Committee on February 20, 2018. Subsequently, Governor McMaster vigorously supported the bill, urging the Senate to get S217 to his desk. The bill then sat on the contested calendar until, in a surprise maneuver, it was debated on the floor of the senate on May 1, 2018. Senator Richard Cash spoke eloquently on the bill. On that day a committee amendment addressing contraceptives, in vitro fertilization, and life of the mother and child was adopted by a vote of 38-2. After a motion by Senator Cash failed to carry the bill over, the bill was again contested. The 2018 session ended without a vote on the bill.
Personhood legislation will be submitted during the next two-year legislative cycle which begins in January of 2019.