COLUMBIA, S.C. — State senators voted Tuesday to delay a bill that would likely ban all abortions in South Carolina, saying they need time to consider possible exceptions to the law.

In a packed meeting room where dozens of spectators were turned away, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 19-4 to postpone the “personhood bill.”

The bill says life begins at conception, and at that moment an embryo has all the rights as any other citizen. Several senators, including Republicans, said similarly-worded legislation in other states has been found unconstitutional.

“I am Republican, pro-life and Catholic,” said Sen. Sandy Senn, R-Charleston. “But this bill is so far out of bounds.”

The Republicans who voted to table the bill said they want to at least debate amendments that would make exceptions to allow abortions to protect the life of the mother or underage rape victims.

The bill has 20 Republican sponsors. Its primary backer, Sen. Richard Cash, promised to push it as part of his election bid last year.

The Powdersville Republican said the people who want amendments don’t want to make the bill better, they just want to stall it.

“Whatever amendments we can work into this bill, there will always be another one,” Cash said.

Democrats suggested if an abortion bill makes it to debate on the Senate floor, nothing else will get done this year, including legislation to deal with the abandoned construction of nuclear plants.

“If it gets on the floor, it will be the last bill you hear this year,” said Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Hartsville.

South Carolina already bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

A similar bill is also in the House Judiciary Committee.

Supporters of the proposal had their hopes boosted last week when Gov. Henry McMaster mentioned in his State of the State address that he believes human life begins at conception.

One of McMaster’s opponents for the Republican nomination for governor this year is Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, who has sponsored the bill before.

Former state Sen. Yancey McGill said he supports the bill too, and the fourth Republican in the race, businesswoman Catherine Templeton, has blogged on her website about “her fight for God’s children.”