Opinion: We’re not going backward in South Carolina
by The Press and Standard | May 13, 2018 5:00 pm
Last Updated: May 9, 2018 at 11:11 am
I’ve always made it a priority to listen to my constituents — all of you who live in Senate District 45 in Jasper, Colleton, Hampton, Allendale, Beaufort and Charleston counties. It is my goal to represent your wishes at the State House, but I’ve always said I’d do what I thought was right since that’s why you elected me. This time, both your wishes and what is right came together on the floor of the South Carolina Senate.
A terrible piece of legislation was made a top priority for the Senate by the Republican members. Although we should be focusing on public schools, roads, the SCE&G nuclear fiasco, mental health, raising wages for workers, my colleagues across the aisle believed that banning birth control and abortion is the state’s number one issue. I strongly disagreed and took to the podium for many hours on each day we debated this bill, along with my Democratic friends in the Senate.
What I know is that government should not interfere with the private, personal decisions of women and their families. We can’t possibly know their circumstances or the burdens they bear. We cannot inflict our own personal beliefs on others whose beliefs tell them something different.
If our state provided excellent health care for women and their children, higher wages for parents, affordable childcare and support for all the babies, then I could say my “pro-life” friends care about children until they become adults. But we all know that’s not the case in South Carolina. Our state refused to expand Medicaid to provide healthcare coverage for more than 200,000 people. Income and wages are among the worst in the country. And there’s no such thing as affordable childcare.
That’s why I say Republicans in the legislature aren’t really “pro-life” — they’re just pro-birth. They care about the baby until it’s born and then women are on their own.
The biggest insult to everyone in South Carolina is the effort to ban birth control. Before birth control, pregnancy and childbirth was one of the leading causes of death for women in South Carolina. Before birth control, women couldn’t plan when to have children. They remained pregnant most of their adult lives, raising many children they couldn’t afford. With birth control, women have been able to finish school, resulting in more female college graduates than men. I can remember the day when young girls had to drop out of high school if they got pregnant. Birth control has allowed women to pursue careers and contribute to the economy. Women now are the primary breadwinners for most South Carolina families. And because birth control allows women to decide if and when to have children, they can space out their pregnancies, which provides for healthier women and healthier babies. We still have too many S.C. women dying in pregnancy and childbirth, ranking among the worst states in the country.
I always heard Republicans are conservatives who believe in more individual freedom and less government interference in private lives. That’s what someone told me. And they might believe that for themselves but it’s just the opposite for women. GOP legislators believe in giving all legal rights to a fertilized egg while ignoring the women who are already living and worthy of our support. No other aspect of our lives is controlled by Republicans (mostly men) than our personal, sexual lives.
One of my colleagues from Charleston — a Republican man — said if women are going to have ***, they need to make sure they’ve taken care of birth control. My female colleagues and I took offense at that. Why doesn’t the man have any responsibility, we asked. He doubled down and said women also should have to get signed permission from their sperm donor to have an abortion.
As an attorney, I see some of the saddest situations in this state. What people do to hurt other people is just a shame. Women and girls are raped. Most disturbing and so sad — some fathers do rape their daughters. But some of my Republican colleagues said they didn’t think abortion should be allowed for victims of rape and incest. I don’t know anyone who would want their daughter to be forced to carry a rapist’s baby to term. That’s just mean.
Too many of us live in our own insulated worlds. We don’t know the reality that many of our neighbors face. How can we make laws which would change the lives of nearly every person in this state if we don’t get out in our communities, meet our neighbors and listen to their stories?
I am thankful for the many women who reached out to share their stories with me. Stories of heartbreak and joy. Sad stories. Women grateful that they can still make personal decisions that are best for their families. Women told me about their life-threatening illnesses discovered while they were pregnant — brain tumors, ectopic pregnancies, cancer, heart disease — that would result in their death if they continued their pregnancy. They told me about their excitement at being pregnant only to find out late in their pregnancy that their baby would not survive outside the womb, or that if the baby survived, it would live a life of tremendous pain for a short while before dying. If they ever wanted to get pregnant again, they had to end their pregnancy, so their baby wouldn’t suffer.
I am honored that these South Carolina women and their families shared the most personal aspects of their lives with me. Women shouldn’t have to reveal these details about their lives to anyone but because some senators want to take away their rights, they feel compelled to let me know how they would suffer under these laws.
In 2018, I expected South Carolina to be moving forward, searching for ways to pay teachers, to solve our utility problems, to improve school safety, to provide better health care for all South Carolinians. I never expected to have to fight for women to be able to decide what to do with their body. I know that my state is better than this.
Ultimately, my Democratic friends in the Senate and I prevailed. After three days of filibustering around the clock for hours and hours, the Senate voted to send this awful legislation back to the Medical Affairs Committee where I expect it will finish out its days. I spent about six hours at the podium this week — once for three-and-a-half hours without a break — but I felt energized by all the people who came to the State House to cheer us on, by the emails, calls and tweets from people who were counting on me and my colleagues to protect their rights. I’d do it again tomorrow if necessary.
South Carolina is better than this and tonight we proved it to everyone. We’re not going back.
(Margie Bright Matthews is a senator from S.C. Senate District 45 and an attorney in Walterboro.)