Maybe the week that members of the S.C. House discussed the state’s $14 billion budget will be remembered as a tipping point for traditional Republicans. Maybe they now have become so sick and tired of the uber-right S.C. Freedom Caucus that they’ll start doing more to shut down the nuttiness.
Conspiracy theories and shenanigans by 20 members of the caucus included everything from politicizing a measure to honor women who hunt and fish to trying to scuttle a major incentive for a manufacturer that wants to create 4,000 jobs. During budget week, the splinter group offered countless divisive and relatively worthless amendments that are the juvenile equivalent of saying, “Hey, look at me, look at me.”
And then there was a new level of crazy that hit the fan with news reports about one caucus member’s bill to punish S.C. women who get abortions with the death penalty. Yes, you read that right.
“The bill is absolutely bonkers,” said state Rep. Spencer Wetmore, D-Charleston. “The good news is that most Republicans seem to agree that it’s bananas. I can’t believe it took proposing the death penalty to bring some common sense to the state House on abortion.”
Republican S.C. Rep. Micah Caskey, R-Lexington, has been a primary thorn in the side of the Freedom Caucus.
“I think elected Republicans in South Carolina are at inflection point. They need to decide if they support gold coins, nullification and the death penalty for women who have abortions,” he said. “And if they are on the side of common sense, it’s time they find a backbone and call out this insanity.”
Mainstream Republicans essentially need to stand up for common sense in governance to snuff the embers that make the rabble-rousers dance.
“The Freedom Caucus has a never-ending stream of culture war bumper stickers to scare people,” Caskey said. “Unless leaders start calling out how insidious their charade is, we may wake up and find ourselves next fighting to save core parts of constitutional governance, like jury trials or the presumption of innocence.”
The bill that made everything come to a head is (H. 3549) by S.C. Rep. Rob Harris, R-Spartanburg. It currently has 14 GOP co-sponsors, almost all of whom are in the caucus. Nine other conservatives dropped off the bill when its extremist nature came to light.
“I have no desire to go after women for any reason regarding abortion,” said GOP Rep. Matt Leber, another conservative freshman from Johns Island who pulled his name from the bill when he said he realized it couldn’t be amended. He said he remains pro-life.
One of the bill’s supporters, freshman S.C. Rep. Jordan Pace, R-Berkeley, makes textbook anti-abortion arguments from the predictable script that maintains unborn fetuses are babies and “deserve a right to not have their life taken without due process or conviction under the law.”
But opening up the possibility of the death penalty for women who have abortions? Really?
“This bill shows the true colors of the anti-abortion extremists in the state legislature, and we all need to pay attention and take this seriously,” said Planned Parenthood’s Vicki Ringer. “Advocates and community members have long warned that the ultimate goal of the anti-abortion movement is to criminalize women who have abortions. This means putting people in jail — and potentially to death — for ending a pregnancy.
“A person should never be punished or charged with a crime for seeking health care. And yet we have already seen a woman in Greenville arrested for allegedly ending her own pregnancy.”
Ann Warner, CEO of the Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network, said the Harris bill was a new low in South Carolina.
“There is no limit to their extremism or their hypocrisy. The legislators who drafted and signed onto this bill are making a mockery of our legislative body and no South Carolinian should fall for their ‘pro-life’ lies ever again,” she said. “People on all sides of the political aisle need to pick up the phone and demand that every single legislator take their name off of this dangerous bill immediately.”
Has the tipping point arrived for the GOP? Let’s hope so. Continuing the insanity is, well, insane.
Andy Brack, recognized as the state’s best columnist in 2022 by the S.C. Press Association, is editor and publisher of the Charleston City Paper and Statehouse Report. Have a comment? Send to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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