Graham Proposes 15-Week Abortion Ban, Seeking to Unite Republicans

WASHINGTON — Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina introduced legislation on Tuesday that would institute a federal ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, moving to unite the Republican Party behind a position before midterm elections in which abortion rights have become a potent issue.

There is no chance that Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, would allow such a bill to receive a vote on the floor. But Mr. Graham’s proposal was an effort to politically insulate Republicans from voter backlash after the Supreme Court ended the constitutional right to abortion in June.

It was a stark reversal from just weeks ago, when top Republicans including Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, signaled that they were unlikely to pursue a nationwide abortion ban after the court’s decision.

In the weeks since, the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has galvanized Democrats on one of the most charged issues in American politics and underscored for Republicans the political risks of their longstanding opposition to abortion rights.

Mr. Graham’s bill, which would prohibit doctors from performing abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, was an effort to strike a balance between the most conservative Republicans who want to sharply restrict access to abortions or ban them outright and others in the party who want to impose more modest limits.

Mr. Graham’s proposal would leave in place state laws with stricter abortion restrictions.

A recent Pew Research Center poll showed that 61 percent of American adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, although the same poll also showed that the partisan divide on the issue has grown over the past two decades.

Moving quickly after the Supreme Court’s ruling, at least 12 Republican-led states have put into place severely restrictive laws that go much further than Mr. Graham’s proposal, allowing no exceptions even for rape or incest. Mr. Graham’s plan would allow for those exceptions. In Oklahoma and Texas, Republicans have enacted laws prohibiting abortions after six weeks of pregnancy — when many women do not yet know that they are pregnant.

There has been a backlash, even in the most conservative states, to such restrictions. After a flood of women registered to vote in deeply conservative Kansas after the Supreme Court decision, for instance, the state rejected a proposal to remove the right to abortion from its constitution

In trying to balance his party’s competing factions, Mr. Graham risked angering both — and giving Democrats a new opening to paint Republicans as extremists. While his bill is less restrictive than some of the most hard-line abortion bans, it would restrict the procedure in Democratic-led states that still have laws protecting access.

Mr. Graham called it a “late-term” abortion ban, but that is a term normally reserved for abortions after late in the second trimester, or about 20 weeks of pregnancy.

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And it signaled that if Republicans regained control of the Senate in November, they could pursue the kind of national ban that Mr. McConnell and others have said was unlikely.

On Tuesday, Mr. Schumer drew attention to Mr. Graham’s proposal from the Senate floor, calling it a “radical bill to institute a nationwide ban on abortions.” He said that “for the hard right, this has never been about states’ rights. This has always been about making abortion illegal.”

Mr. Schumer added, “Republicans are twisting themselves into pretzels trying to explain why they want nationwide abortion bans when they said they’d leave it up to the states.”

In June, Mr. Graham said during an appearance on Fox News that abortion laws should be decided by states.

“All of us in the conservative world have believed that there’s nothing in the Constitution giving the federal government the right to regulate abortion,” he told Fox News host Martha MacCallum.

The bill is a more stringent version of legislation that Mr. Graham has introduced in the past, which would have banned abortions after 20 weeks.

“I don’t believe abortion, five months into pregnancy, makes us a better nation,” he said last year when introducing that bill.

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