The name of his bill — which includes the nonmedical phrase “late-term abortions” — drew sharp criticism from abortion rights activists. Used almost exclusively by antiabortion activists, the phrase is generally understood to refer to abortions between or after 21 and 24 weeks of pregnancy.
“15 weeks is not ‘late term,’ particularly given the significant challenges to access around the country,” Christina Reynolds, vice president of communications at Emily’s List, wrote in a tweet.
While most people undergo abortions earlier in pregnancy, 15-week and 20-week abortion bans disproportionately affect patients with fetal anomalies, which are often detected at a 20-week anatomy scan, along with those who take longer to realize they are pregnant. These kinds of bans will also affect more people in a post-Roe America as abortion clinics struggle to accommodate a swell of patients from states where abortion is now banned.
Democrats swiftly responded to reports of Graham’s efforts with anger, and vowed that the measure would go nowhere.
“I will block any efforts in the Senate to advance a nationwide abortion ban — full stop,” tweeted Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), who is locked in a tough reelection bid. “We don’t need any more male politicians telling women what we can and can’t do with our own bodies.”
“I will never understand the Republican obsession with what goes on in your bedroom or your doctor’s office, but I do know it belongs nowhere near government. Your right to privacy is fundamental,” Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) tweeted.
The timing of Graham’s announcement is curious, two months after most Republicans justified the Supreme Court’s June decision to overturn Roe v. Wade by arguing that abortion rights should be left to states to decide. It will also come two months before the midterm elections, after abortion has already shown to be a galvanizing issue for some Democratic voters. While Republicans generally have praised the ruling overturning Roe, many have preferred not to focus on the issue ahead of the midterms.
Last month, Kansas voters soundly rejected a referendum that would have allowed state lawmakers to regulate abortion, the first time state voters decided on such an amendment since Roe was overturned. Last week, South Carolina Republicans fell short in their bid for a near-total abortion ban in the state. Planned Parenthood announced last month that it plans to spend a record $50 million in an effort to elect abortion rights supporters across the country this November, banking on the belief that abortion will help turn out Democratic voters.
Moreover, several red states already have stricter bans in place. “Trigger laws” restricting or banning abortion went into effect immediately after Roe was overturned in at least eight states, and several others are in various stages of legal limbo. Last month, Indiana passed a near-total abortion ban, the first to do so after Roe was struck down.
Before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, many Republican lawmakers and advocates had been pushing for a strict nationwide “heartbeat” ban on abortions, which would have outlawed the procedure after cardiac activity is detected, at around six weeks of pregnancy. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) had been planning behind-the-scenes to introduce the legislation.
But months after the landmark abortion ruling, those plans have quietly fizzled. While that bill has been drafted, there is no timeline for Ernst or any other senator to introduce it, according to several antiabortion advocates close to the situation.
Instead, some leading antiabortion advocates are hoping that Republicans will rally around a 15-week ban, long denounced by many in the antiabortion movement because it would allow the vast majority of abortions to continue.
Dannenfelser, the president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, said she expects that Graham’s bill will be “universally accepted,” offering a path forward that a variety of Republican senators can support.
“I think the place to begin is where Graham is beginning,” said Dannenfelser in an interview before Graham’s bill was released. “Graham is the momentum and it will increase when he introduces [his bill].”
Some Republicans are not so sure. Since the Supreme Court decision, many have said publicly that they think abortion should be left to the states.
Even before an antiabortion amendment was resoundingly defeated in his home state, Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) told The Washington Post that he doubted that there was a future for any kind of national abortion ban.
“I just don’t see the momentum at the federal level,” Marshall said in a July 25 interview. “I think the legislative priority should be at the states.”
Republicans have been forced to reckon with a growing trove of data suggesting that abortion could be a decisive issue in the midterms, motivating Democratic and independent voters far more than was widely expected. Candidates who support abortion rights have overperformed in recent special elections, while key battleground states have seen a spike in Democratic and independent women registering to vote.
Some Republicans have grown increasingly hesitant to discuss the subject of a national abortion ban on the campaign trail. In Arizona, Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters removed any mention of his support for a “federal personhood law” from his website, legislation that probably would have banned abortion nationwide after conception. Masters’s website now says he would support a ban on abortions in the third trimester, at around 27 weeks of pregnancy, a far more popular position.
Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America applauded the change in a news release, saying that Masters “rightfully centered his position on what is achievable at the federal level.”
Abortion rights groups have seized on the looming threat of a national abortion ban, hoping to mobilize voters around the issue all over the country, including those in states where abortion rights are protected.
“For anyone who is in a state where abortion is not yet restricted or banned, we especially want to tell those voters, ‘This is everybody’s issue. It could come to your state too if they’re voting against efforts to protect abortion,’ ” said Jacqueline Ayers, senior vice president at Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
In both the House and Senate, Republicans are debating other types of abortion legislation that might be easier to pass than a national ban.
Rep. Michelle Fischbach (R-Minn.), co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, said in an interview that members have been discussing first-of-its-kind legislation that would give federal funding to crisis pregnancy centers, antiabortion organizations that try to dissuade women from having abortions and sometimes offer diapers and other aid to new moms.
Rachel Roubein and Marianna Sotomayor contributed to this report.