South Carolina

GOP lawmaker shared story of her rape. Now she says she’s under attack in abortion debate

Nancy Mace
Nancy Mace

A GOP state lawmaker who recently gave an impassioned speech about being raped as a 16 year old says she feels attacked after a Republican colleague passed out literature describing rape as a “misdeed of the parent” that doesn’t justify having an abortion.

The Spartanburg Republican who passed out the card this week, state Rep. Josiah Magnuson, acknowledged the poor word choice in an interview with The State Friday but said he wouldn’t back down from his position.

And now House leaders plan to address the dustup in a private meeting next month, reminding fellow Republicans there are rules against attacking the integrity or character of fellow House members.

State Rep. Nancy Mace, R-Berkeley, gave the speech two weeks ago, successfully persuading the House to allow exceptions for rape and incest in a proposed 6-week “fetal heartbeat” abortion ban. On Tuesday, she returned to her desk to find a card left there by Magnuson.

“It is a twisted logic that would kill the unborn child for the misdeed of the parent,” read the card, produced by Personhood SC, a group fighting for an outright abortion ban with no exceptions in South Carolina.

Mace took the message personally, since it came two weeks after her speech, and House Democrats were outraged. She blasted the card on Facebook for its use of “misdeed” to describe rape and “parent” to describe “rapist.”

In response, Magnuson on Wednesday distributed to House members a letter from a member of Personhood SC stating: “The problem of some is not the ‘poor wording’ of this sentence, but that these people just simply want abortion in cases of rape and incest.”

Mace, who describes herself as pro-life and voted for the abortion ban, was incensed. She complained to House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R-York, who agreed Magnuson’s decision to pass out the card and letter were out of line.

“Calling rape a misdeed is ignorant, disgraceful and degrading toward women,” the second-term lawmaker said in an interview with The State Friday. “I didn’t get sent to Columbia to put up with bullshit like that.”

House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, said Mace was “visibly shaken” when she saw the letter this week. He said the Personhood SC literature came off as “trolling” Mace after she publicly told the story of a rape she had kept secret for 25 years until October 2018.

“It was one of the most detestable things that I have seen in my 21 years in the General Assembly,” Rutherford said. “A response to rape by this pro-life crowd was to take Nancy Mace’s face and rub it in it.”

Magnuson said he now thinks the card was “poorly worded” but wasn’t targeting Mace. He said he never wanted the debate to become personal. The six-week abortion ban that passed the House in April was insufficient and he was trying to push lawmakers to approve a stronger proposal that would outlaw virtually all abortions in South Carolina, he said.

“She has put herself out there as a defender of her position,” Magnuson said. “I’m putting myself out there as a defender of my position. We need to have a legitimate conversation on the issues.”

Simrill said Magnuson’s card and letter will be discussed at the next House Republican Caucus meeting, where Simrill plans to remind the group’s nearly 80 members about the chamber’s rules of decorum.

Though the literature was written by members of the Personhood SC movement, Magnuson bears responsibility for passing it out on the House floor, Simrill said.

“When what you are placing on a members’ desk impugns the integrity or questions the character of the member, that is not following the rules of decorum,” Simrill said. “That is out of order and will not be tolerated.”

SC Senator Larry Grooms testifies against dismemberment abortions while in session April 26, 2018.

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.
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