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Anti-abortion bills fail in GOP-controlled Nebraska and South Carolina

By Chandelis Duster, CNN

Measures that would have severely restricted abortion failed Thursday in Nebraska and South Carolina, which both have Republican-controlled legislatures, a reflection of the growing unease among Republicans over the political popularity of strict bans.

In Nebraska, a “Heartbeat Act” would have banned most abortions after six weeks except in cases of rape or incest or to preserve the life of the mother once a “fetal heartbeat” was detected, but it stalled in the legislature. A vote to overcome a filibuster of the bill failed by a vote of 32-15, with two senators abstaining, including Republican state Sen. Merv Riepe — leaving the measure one vote shy of the two-thirds majority needed for full consideration. Riepe, a cosigner to the bill, had proposed an amendment to move the ban to 12 weeks instead of six weeks, but his amendment did not receive a vote Thursday.

Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen, a Republican, said he was “profoundly disappointed” in the vote and called for the bill to be reconsidered.

“It is unacceptable for senators to be present not voting on such a momentous vote,” Pillen said in a statement on Thursday. “I call on Senator Merv Riepe to make a motion to reconsider and stand by the commitments to life he has made in the past.”

Nebraska law currently prohibits most abortions starting at 20 weeks.

On Thursday afternoon, the South Carolina state Senate failed to pass the “Human Life Protection Act,” which would have banned abortions in the state, in a 22-21 vote with five women voting against it — including three Republicans. The bill previously passed in the state House and included exceptions for incidents of rape or incest.

The bill will now be carried over to next year’s legislative session, which begins in January.

“Once a woman became pregnant for any reason, she would now become property of the state of South Carolina if the ‘Human Life Protection Act’ were [to] come into law,” Republican state Sen. Katrina Frye Shealy, who voted against the bill, said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “She could no longer make decisions on her own or at the advice of her well-trained doctor. Every female, regardless of her age, would suddenly become subject to the power of a code book regarding her health.”

Penry Gustafson, another Republican South Carolina state senator who voted against the bill, told CNN’s Boris Sanchez on Friday while she is in favor of a six-week abortion ban and is against abortion rights, she voted against the bill because she did not believe it would pass the state’s Supreme Court. Gustafson also said she disagrees with support for a nationwide 15-week abortion ban that has been promoted by some Congressional Republicans, including South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

“I’ve talked with some of my colleagues, especially my female colleagues, and we think it’s a bad idea. If you are going to send the decision-making to the states, we need to do that. We need to legislate on behalf of our states,” she said on “CNN News Central.”

Vicki Ringer, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said in a statement, “the government should never force a person to carry a pregnancy or give birth against their will” and that the state legislature is “hellbent on controlling the decisions of women.”

In the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, many Republican-led states have enacted sweeping abortion restrictions. But unpopularity, demonstrated in some instances by electoral evidence, over severe restrictions has prompted Republicans to reconsider the political wisdom of enacting near-total bans on the procedure, and House Republicans have recently stepped away from pushing a federal abortion ban.

This story has been updated with additional reaction and details.

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CNN’s Melissa Alonso and Andy Rose contributed to this report.

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