Republican Senator Lindsey Graham introduced legislation on Tuesday that would ban most abortions nationwide after the 15th week of pregnancy.
The South Carolina senator introduced the bill less than three months after the Supreme Court ruled Roe v. Wade, overturned the landmark ruling that established the constitutional right to abortion. The measure would severely limit access to abortion in numerous states — particularly blue states, which tend to have more protections from abortion rights.
The law, as it stands, has little chance of passing Congress as Democrats hold narrow majorities in both the House and Senate.
It comes ahead of the crucial midterm elections in November, which have cast doubt on expectations of a Republican defeat as evidence mounts that Roe’s reversal has roiled Democratic voters. Abortion rights advocates have warned that a GOP takeover of Congress would erode women’s rights, and many were quick to tout Graham’s bill as a prime example.
Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Republican who would decide whether to vote on a statewide abortion ban if the GOP wins the chamber in November, was reluctant to pass Graham’s bill.
“I think most members of my conference would prefer this to be dealt with at the state level,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday afternoon. Other GOP senators have offered mixed messages on the bill.
While the title of Graham’s bill suggests it would only ban “late” abortions, it would limit the procedure nationwide after less than four months of pregnancy, a threshold that falls in the second trimester.
According to the health policy non-profit KFF, abortions are typically considered “late date” from the 21st week of pregnancy. However, the organization notes that this term is not an official medical term and that abortions at this stage are rarely sought and difficult to achieve.
The 15-week boundary precedes the point of fetal viability, which is generally considered to be around 24 weeks gestation. The Supreme Court ruled in Roe that women have the right to have a pre-viability abortion, and after that point states can begin to impose restrictions.
In June’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 for Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, another abortion-right case. The ruling by a court that had become much more conservative after nominating three of former President Donald Trump’s nominees gave individual states the power to set their abortion policies.
Numerous Republican-leaning states have immediately sought outright bans on abortion, while many Democratic leaders have attempted to enshrine safeguards over the procedure.
Graham, a close Trump ally, had previously expressed his support for states making their own abortion laws. “This is, in my view, the most constitutionally sane way to deal with this issue and the way the United States handled this issue up until 1973,” Graham tweeted in May.
But Graham has also introduced legislation to limit abortion nationally – although his 2021 bill would have banned abortion after 20 weeks, instead of the 15-week limit in the current version.
“Abortion is a controversial issue. After Dobbs, America has a choice to make,” Graham said at a Tuesday news conference unveiling the new legislation.
“States have an opportunity to do this at the state level, and we have an opportunity in Washington to speak on this issue if we choose to,” he said. “I have decided to speak.”
By the 15-week mark, Graham said, the fetus has developed enough to feel pain from an abortion. After that, his bill would no longer allow abortions except in cases of rape or incest, or to save the mother’s life. “And that should be America,” the senator said.
Flanking Graham was the leaders of several anti-abortion groups, including Pro-Life America President Susan B. Anthony, Marjorie Dannenfelser.
“This is incredible progress, but much more needs to be done,” Dannenfelser said in a statement.
The White House slammed Graham in a statement later Tuesday, calling the bill “wildly inconsistent with what Americans believe” and touting the Biden administration’s legislative goals while accusing Republicans of “spending millions of… taking away women’s rights”.
Abortion rights groups echoed this sentiment but tied the issue directly to the midterm elections.
“Republicans in Congress for anti-abortion rights are showing us exactly what they intend to do when they come to power: pass a national ban on abortion,” Alexis McGill Johnson, CEO of Planned Parenthood, said in a statement.
“We want to thank Senator Graham for making it clear to voters today that Republicans are pursuing a national abortion ban in this midterm election,” said Dani Negrete, national political director for progressive advocacy group Indivisible.
Polls show attitudes toward abortion are shifting toward the pro-choice position after the Dobbs ruling. Some Republican candidates who previously took tough positions on abortion during the GOP primaries have softened or toned down their views as they run in general elections.
Democratic candidates such as Pennsylvania Senate nominee John Fetterman have addressed the issue.
“Dr. Oz has made it *very* clear that he wants to take women’s reproductive freedom away,” Fetterman tweeted Tuesday of Republican opponent Dr. Mehmet Oz. “As the GOP introduces a national abortion ban, it’s now more important than ever that we stop it in November.”