The General Assembly returns to Columbia to do its worst 

Women and Children Last

Our General Assembly is back on the job in Columbia, overseeing the worst governed state in the nation, presiding over the collapse of our roads and infrastructure, burying ethics reform under a mountain of procedural obstruction, and making South Carolina as dangerous and unhealthy as possible for women and children.

With the third-lowest percentage of female membership in the nation — 13.5 percent, or 23 out of 170 members — our legislature has shaped this state for generations with its high-testosterone, low-compassion agenda. South Carolina is perennially No. 1 in the nation for the rate of women murdered by men. We rank 34th in maternal death rate, 42nd in infant mortality, 47th in percentage of preterm births, 39th in rate of teen births, 33rd in the rate of child poverty. We are 32nd in the rate of young people who smoke. We recently had the 4th lowest rate of high school graduation in the nation and the 16th lowest public school expenditure per pupil. We rank 42 among the states in overall child well-being, according to the 2015 Kids Count Survey.

So what are our solons doing in 2016 to make life better, safer, healthier for the women and children who call South Carolina home? Well, they have filed numerous bills to ban the practice of Sharia law in our state courts, while other bills would outlaw sanctuary cities for immigrants and create a moratorium on "refugee settlements." (Yet another bill would prohibit public school officials from aiding Middle Eastern refugees.) One would even annul the president's executive order allowing undocumented immigrants to receive social services.

If it's gay marriage that makes you wet your pants, we have bills to protect ministers from having to perform same-sex marriages and allows judges and clerks to refuse to issue marriage licenses on religious grounds. The ironically named Sen. Lee Bright (R-Spartanburg) filed a bill to ban hormonal therapy or sexual reassignment surgery to state prisoners. One bill would require every school in the state to post the words "In God We Trust" in public view, an act that would surely cost a lot for brass plaques and a lot more for lawyers.

And for those who enjoy irony, South Carolina law is full of it. Our legislature clearly doesn't give a rat's ass about the health, safety, or education of our young people, but if you happen to be a fetus, you're in luck. At last count — and that was more than a week ago — Republicans had filed 14 bills to make abortion as difficult, expensive, and unpleasant as possible. Four of them would ban abortion after 20 weeks. Some would ban abortion-inducing drugs and "dismemberment abortions," while others would require an ultrasound before an abortion and ban abortion if a heartbeat were detected. And then there are those that ban employers from contributing to abortion services in state health insurance and would establish that life and legal rights begin at conception.

But what does any of this do for living, breathing, walking, talking human beings who desperately need food, healthcare, education, jobs, and a warm, dry place to sleep in this benighted little state?

I recently had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Donna Johnson address the monthly meeting of Charleston County Democratic Women. The Aynor, S.C., native is chief of obstetrics and gynecology at MUSC, and she is disturbed by what she sees unfolding in Columbia right now.

"South Carolina gets a D or an F in everything that pertains to women, whether it's education, health, economics," she said. And companies looking for a place to locate their plants and facilities do consider such statistics.

The state has scored a couple of significant improvements in recent years, Johnson said. We have brought our preterm birthrate down from 49th in the nation to 43rd, and our cervical cancer rate has dropped from 49th to 38th. But the cervical cancer battle was particularly bitter because it involved giving HPV vaccinations to adolescent girls. It is known that the vaccination prevents 95 percent of cervical cancers later in life, but many parents and religious leaders resisted the idea that their daughters might be sexually active and could benefit from the vaccine which also prevents a sexually transmitted disease. Conservatives took a medical argument and turned it into a sexual argument, Dr. Johnson said. And if there is anything that scares white Christians more than Muslims, it's sex.

So don't get your hopes up that things in this state will be any better when the General Assembly wraps up in June. This is South Carolina, after all.

Will Moredock is the author of Living in Fear: Race, Politics & The Republican Party in South Carolina.

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