South Carolina

BUZZ: Want to cut abortions? Pay SC birth mothers, attorney says

A new idea emerged this week after years of abortion debates at the S.C. State House.

Marguerite Willis, a Florence attorney and 2018 Democratic candidate for S.C. governor, stepped to the microphone in a pink suit Tuesday during a daylong hearing on the proposed “fetal heartbeat” abortion ban, ostensibly to offer testimony that neither supported nor criticized the bill.

Willis approached the bill from a legal angle.

She said the Republican-backed proposal forces women to carry unwanted or problematic pregnancies to term, making them “serve, in essence, as an incubator.” On the open market, pregnancy surrogates can fetch between $50,000 and $100,000 in arrangements that make a woman’s uterus “not unlike rental property,” she said.

But the fetal heartbeat bill requires S.C. women to act as unpaid surrogates from the state, she said.

To rectify that, Willis suggested lawmakers amend the bill to require the state to pay fair market value to women who are forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.

State Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, admitted he had never heard the idea but doubted it would gain much traction.

He told The State S.C. Democrats will again have to defeat the proposal with a filibuster if it comes up for debate in 2020.

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SC schools chief asked to probe Aiken superintendent’s sudden ousting

In one night, a school district superintendent is suddenly out. Three school board members announce their resignations, including two of the district’s longest-serving trustees.

At the center of the unfolding drama is an audio recording clandestinely created and, now, a call for the state’s education chief to investigate.

Two of the former Aiken County School Board members — Tad Barber and Ahmed Samaha — are helping to drive an effort to get the S.C. Department of Education to investigate the circumstances surrounding now former Superintendent Sean Alford’s sudden resignation earlier this month.

In a letter sent to S.C. Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, Barber, Samaha and 10 other local officials and community leaders asked Spearman to investigate “potential ethics violations and conflicts of interest” surrounding the Alford’s resignation.

The letter, which does not offer details of what ethics violations are alleged, was emailed to Spearman’s office Friday and will land on the Education Department’s general counsel’s desk.

At the heart of Alford’s sudden resignation is an audio recording made by a former district employee in June, in which Alford allegedly threatened the employee, according to media reports.

(Former board members told The State, however, friction on the board started last year after several new members were elected.)

An attempt to reach Alford by press time was unsuccessful.

Asked what happens now that the letter is in the department’s hands, spokesman Ryan Brown said investigators within the counsel’s office will look into the allegations.

“Any time we get any allegation or request for an investigation, they are all taken seriously,” Brown said. “They are all taken seriously, no matter who it comes from.”

Barber told The State he chose to resign the same night Alford was ousted because “I felt like this board was colluding, conspiring to get rid of him (Alford). I think what they were doing overall was unethical.”

The school board accepted Alford’s resignation on Sept. 5, which took effect Friday. The Aiken Standard reported an interim has been named.

Board member Samaha also resigned that night. Board member Rosemary English resigned her seat on Friday.

Alford, hired in 2015, in a statement called his job the “highest honor” of his professional career. But he called his resignation not “an ideal circumstance for our organization.”

With that statement, the board released its own, saying members and Alford reached an “amicable resolution.”

Only three current school board members responded to The State when asked to weigh in: Dwight Smith said Friday he could not comment, citing legal reasons and Brian Silas said he was “not at liberty to discuss the situation” concerning Alford’s resignation.

Silas added the leadership of interim superintendent King Laurence “is exactly what we need at this time.”

Chairman Keith Liner said he had no comment.

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Avery G. Wilks is The State’s senior S.C. State House and politics reporter. He was named the 2018 S.C. Journalist of the Year by the South Carolina Press Association. He grew up in Chester, S.C., and graduated from the University of South Carolina’s top-ranked Honors College in 2015.
Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.