Sen. Lindsey Graham's abortion ban proposal roils Republicans, energizes Democrats

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WASHINGTON — With abortion access already expected to be a major issue in November’s midterm elections, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham supercharged the debate over reproductive rights by introducing a bill that would ban most abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy.

“I have chosen to craft legislation that I think is eminently reasonable in the eyes of the world,” the South Carolina senator said. “If we take back the House and the Senate, I can assure you we’ll have a vote,” he vowed, speaking at a Capitol Hill press conference where he was flanked by some of the nation’s most prominent anti-abortion activists, including Marjorie Dannenfelser of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. Many of those activists would like an outright ban on all abortions.

“This bill, frankly, doesn’t go far enough for many people,” said Penny Young Nance, president of Concerned Women for America. “But it is a consensus piece of legislation.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham stands at a podium, flanked by anti-abortion advocates.
Sen. Lindsey Graham at a news conference with representatives from national anti-abortion organizations on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Democrats instantly seized on Graham’s proposal, while many Republicans just as quickly distanced themselves from the bill. “I don’t think there’s much of an appetite to go that direction,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., told Politico.

“Abortion is a contentious issue,” Graham acknowledged in his remarks.

Although most Americans support reproductive choice, they do also support some limitations. Since the Supreme Court’s ruling in June in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overruled the nearly 50-year precedent of Roe v. Wade, Republican states have rushed to limit or fully ban abortion, while many Democratic states have expanded access.

Graham pointed out that many European nations, such as Germany and France — whose social democracies are generally admired by American progressives — have abortion limits of their own, albeit in radically different contexts where social services and medical care are much easier to access than they are in the United States. They also make broad allowances for maternal health.

Abortion advocates worry that proposals like Graham’s would not bring the U.S. in line with Germany but, rather, with the likes of Poland.

Sen. Lindsey Graham gestures toward placards explaining his abortion bill.
Graham announces a national bill on abortion restrictions. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images)

The White House sharply criticized Graham’s legislation, as did many congressional Democrats, suggesting that his abortion ban proposal may compound, at least in the short term, Republican challenges in the upcoming midterms.

“While we are fighting for progress, they are fighting to take us back,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said of Democrats’ and Republicans’ competing priorities during a Tuesday press briefing. She discounted the notion that many Americans do support, according to polls, restrictions at around the end of the first trimester of pregnancy (that is, the first 12 weeks of gestation) or the beginning of the second.

“It is an extreme piece of legislation,” Jean-Pierre argued. She also pointed out that Graham had recently supported the rights of states to make their own abortion laws, without involvement from Congress.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stands at a podium.
Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre at the daily press briefing at the White House on Tuesday. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Speaking at a Capitol Hill press conference, Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, also warned that Graham’s bill was an opening bid in an ambitious and ongoing campaign against reproductive choice and other rights many Americans now take for granted.

“For the hard hard right this has never been about states’ rights. This has never been about letting Texas choose its own path while California takes another. No, for MAGA Republicans, this has always been about making abortion illegal everywhere,” Schumer told reporters on Tuesday afternoon.

Seeking to capitalize on the broad unpopularity of the Dobbs ruling even before an opinion had been formally issued (a draft had been shared by an unknown source with Politico), Democrats sought to codify Roe with the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would have prevented states from banning abortion. The effort failed but underscored the role Congress would have in a post-Roe world.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stands at a microphone as he answers reporters’ questions.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at the weekly Republican news conference on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

In a potentially inauspicious sign for supporters of the proposal, Graham acknowledged that he had not spoken with Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, about the legislation. Already frustrated by Sen. Rick Scott’s leadership of the Republican campaign effort, McConnell has watched, in recent weeks, GOP candidates faltering in key states like Arizona, Ohio and North Carolina, imperiling what had been widely expected to be a blue-to-red shift in the upper chamber.

“With regard to his bill, you’ll have to ask him about it,” McConnell told reporters on Tuesday afternoon. “I think most of the members of my conference prefer that this will be dealt with at the state level.”

At least in part, Republicans’ woes appear related to continuing anger at the Dobbs ruling. In Arizona, Senate candidate Blake Masters has surreptitiously deleted sections of his campaign website containing strident anti-abortion language. Tiffany Smiley, a Senate candidate in Washington state, touts her anti-abortion stance in a new campaign advertisement — while adding that she is against a full abortion ban.

Graham dismissed political concerns. “There’s a narrative forming in America that the Republican Party and the pro-life movement is on the run,” he said on Tuesday. “No, no, no, no. We’re going nowhere.”