Washington, DC – Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has introduced a bill that would ban abortions at 15 weeks of pregnancy across the United States, drawing rebuke from Democrats and reproductive rights advocates.
The legislation, announced on Tuesday, has virtually no chance of passing in the Democratic-controlled Congress, but it highlights growing divisions in the country around abortion, just weeks ahead of the crucial midterm elections in November.
“If we adopted my bill – our bill – we would be in the mainstream of most everybody else in the world,” Graham, a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, said during a news conference, adding that dozens of European countries have similar, if not more stringent, restrictions.
Abortion has been a contentious issue in US politics for decades, with Republicans making banning and restricting the procedure a central point of their platform.
That debate intensified after the US Supreme Court in June overturned its landmark 1973 Roe v Wade ruling, revoking the constitutional right to abortion in the country. The move allowed conservative-leaning states to ban or restrict the procedure.
Currently, there are no federal laws regulating abortion, which means states can pass their own legislation on the matter.
Dubbed the Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions Act, Graham’s bill argues that fetuses can feel pain around 15 weeks of pregnancy, “if not earlier” – hence the cutoff for the procedure. The proposal provides exceptions for victims of rape and incest, and it would also allow abortion to save the life of the mother.
Meanwhile, Democrats are pushing to protect abortion rights nationally. In July, the US House of Representatives passed a bill to prohibit abortion bans in line with Roe v Wade, enshrining the right to the procedure until fetal viability – around 24 weeks.
But like Graham’s bill, the Democratic-led proposal has little chance of being approved in the Senate, where a legislative procedure known as the filibuster requires 60 votes for the 100-member chamber to pass major legislation.
Democratic leaders, including President Joe Biden, have vowed to carve out an exception for the filibuster to pass the abortion legislation next year if they gain two seats in the Senate in the upcoming midterms.
While Democrats have the thinnest of majorities in the chamber, two more conservative Democratic senators currently oppose abolishing the filibuster. “Imagine if we just elected two more Democrats to the Senate and keep the House of Representatives. We’ll codify Roe v Wade,” Biden said in a speech last week.
BREAKING: Lindsey Graham has introduced a NATIONAL abortion ban. Despite knowing bans are unpopular and put people’s lives in danger — this is anti-abortion politicians' end goal.
Let's show them the hell we're about to raise in the comments.
— Planned Parenthood Action (@PPact) September 13, 2022
Abortion has taken centre stage in the lead-up to the November election, with Democratic candidates accusing their Republican opponents of pushing to violate women’s right to autonomy over their own bodies.
In conservative Kansas, where Trump beat Biden by 15 percentage points in the 2020 presidential elections, residents overwhelmingly voted to preserve abortion rights in a referendum in early August.
In New York, a Democratic candidate who centred abortion rights in his campaign won a contested special House election. And late last month, a Democratic House candidate won a state-wide election in Alaska, defeating former vice presidential candidate and Trump ally Sarah Palin.
The White House denounced Graham’s bill on Tuesday, calling it “wildly out of step” with the views of the US public.
“President Biden and Congressional Democrats are committed to restoring the protections of Roe v Wade in the face of continued radical steps by elected Republicans to put personal health care decisions in the hands of politicians instead of women and their doctors, threatening women’s health and lives,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.
But Graham said his bill aims to counter the Democrats’ own proposal, and he called for a debate on the legislation. He stressed that Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the court case that led to the overturning of Roe v Wade, does not ban abortion; rather, it leaves it to elected officials to regulate the procedure.
“Abortion is a contentious issue,” the Republican senator said. “Post-Dobbs, America’s got to make some decisions.”
Democrats slam bill
Several Democrats criticised Graham’s proposed legislation and rejected its title, which proclaims to target “late-term” abortions.
“Republicans are now coming after the right to abortion at the federal level,” Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. “Overturning Roe was never about giving power back to states — it was about controlling our bodies and our personal autonomy. We cannot let this happen.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called Graham’s proposal “radical”, accusing Republicans of seeking to punish women who seek abortions.
“For MAGA Republicans – it’s always been about making abortion illegal everywhere,” Schumer tweeted, referring to Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again”.
NARAL Pro-Choice America, an advocacy organisation that backs abortion rights, also said the bill shows that Republicans’ true aim is to ban abortion.
“Let’s be clear about what a bill like this would do – it could put a ban on abortion in place in every state in our country, including blue states that have laws protecting abortion rights and access on the books,” Mini Timmaraju, the group’s president, said in a statement.
“This is about who gets to decide what’s right for our lives and our families. Should it be a person who is pregnant? Or Lindsey Graham and MAGA Republicans?”
Republican Senator Graham is pushing a radical bill for a nationwide abortion ban
For MAGA Republicans—it's always been about making abortion illegal everywhere
Dems are fighting to protect abortion rights
MAGA Republicans want to punish women & doctors for carrying them out
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) September 13, 2022