Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) surprised some of his fellow Republicans this week by proposing a nationwide ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for cases of rape and incest, or a threat to the woman's health. "The developed world has said at this stage into the pregnancy the child feels pain," Graham said, "and we're saying we're going to join the rest of the world and not be like Iran." The bill split Republicans. Many moderates have been scrubbing their websites of anti-abortion talking points, hoping to keep the backlash over the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade (1973) from hurting the GOP's chances of winning control of the Senate in the November midterm elections. Many conservatives want abortion banned outright, not just restricted as Graham proposes, even though that could cost the party midterm votes. Former Vice President Mike Pence said fighting for a national abortion ban "is profoundly more important than any short-term politics."
The top Republican in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), brushed off Graham's proposal, saying "most of the members of my conference prefer that this be dealt with at the state level." Democrats were happy to have Graham put the issue center stage, noting that Graham's proposal would let more restrictive abortion bans stand in red states, while restricting abortion rights everywhere else. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Republicans were clearly "focused on taking rights away from millions of women." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) mocked Republicans who thought Graham's proposal didn't go far enough, saying some in the party "think life begins at the candlelight dinner the night before." Did Graham's plan backfire, or will it help unite the GOP?
Graham is giving Republicans an opportunity to pull together
Republicans should be uniting behind Graham's proposal, says the National Review in an editorial. His "modest and sensible" bill "stands in stark contrast to congressional Democrats' radical federal legislation that would effectively allow abortion in all 50 states through all nine months of pregnancy." It also would bring the United States more in line with European countries, although his national 15-week limit is a little later than some of them. Still, it would "save the lives of tens of thousands of babies killed in America each year in gruesome late abortions," while only prohibiting 5 percent of abortions and "leaving states free to set restrictive or permissive policies over the other 95 percent of cases." Republicans who say the issue is one only state legislatures should handle "don't really believe that." Graham and others in the party have pushed a similar nationwide late-term abortion ban for nearly a decade, with nearly unanimous support from congressional Republicans.
Democrats are the ones Graham helped
Graham's 15-week abortion ban "appears to be a political gift to Democrats less than two months before the midterm elections," say Oriana Gonzalez and Caitlin Owens at Axios. Graham's proposal would leave in place more restrictive bans that many red states have enacted since the Supreme Court overturned Roe, which had protected abortion rights nationwide for a half-century. It certainly contrasts with Democrats' proposal to protect abortion rights nationwide up to fetal viability, at about 23 weeks. By focusing on earlier abortions, Graham is trying to change the conversation to make Democrats look like the "extremists." But "Republicans are desperate to stop talking about whether rape victims or cancer patients should be able to get abortions, and are well aware that the Supreme Court's decision to overrule the federal right to abortion is not playing well for them heading into the midterms."
This is a PR war over who's the extremist
"This is a very sensible and reasonable policy," says Kimberly Strassel at The Wall Street Journal. Sure, it would "limit some of the blue states that have a few or no restrictions on abortions." But 92.7 percent of abortions are "usually done by 13 weeks or before," so "this really would be a federal ban on kind of the more later term." Democrats are pushing for national abortion protections all the way to 23 weeks, and that makes them the ones "getting into territory that most Americans, if you look at polling, are uncomfortable with." Democrats are trying to take control of the narrative to hide these "nuances" from voters to turn this into a winning issue for their candidates. But to win this debate, Republicans need to unite, and it's hard for them to do that, partly because Graham's bill "trounces us all over Republicans' long-term message that this really should be left up to the states to manage" this issue. He's also putting GOP candidates on the spot in the purple states with the races that could determine control of the Senate.
Graham's bill isn't just unwise, it's cruel
Graham's attempt to paint Democrats as extremists backfired, says Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times. He really just "underlined Republican callousness toward the abortion patients likely to elicit the most public sympathy." It's appalling that the South Carolina senator didn't include an exception for cases of severe fetal disability, like anencephaly, in which a fetus' brain and skull don't develop. Even Iran — where, despite Graham's "nonsensical" reference, abortion is "mostly illegal — lets women petition to get an abortion in cases like that. "Graham would condemn every single woman who gets disastrous news from her amnio or her anatomy scan to carry a doomed pregnancy to term, unless she could prove that it was going to kill her. Whether thoughtless or deliberate, the cruelty of this is almost unfathomable." This might not fly now. But Graham is showing us what anti-abortion forces plan to do if the GOP regains control of Congress.