Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on Tuesday morning introduced the Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions Act. The bill would ban abortions nationwide after 15 weeks of pregnancy. It would also let states tack on further restrictions as they see fit, including total prohibitions.
Graham said he intends for the bill to serve as a touchstone the Republican Party can rally around ahead of the midterms. In practice, it’s far more likely that his bill will instead be a lightning rod for Democrats to draw even more abortion-rights voters to the polls.
Though the GOP has long pledged to overturn constitutional protections for abortion, that promise’s becoming reality has left the party reeling and unsure of its next steps. As NBC News reported Tuesday, Republicans across the country are trying to blunt the damage the Dobbs ruling has inflicted on their chances to retake Congress this fall. And the polling that even GOP firms have conducted back up the concerns that abortion as an issue will dim Republicans’ prospects in November:
By 51% to 32%, battleground state voters say Republicans are more extreme on abortion than Democrats, according to polling exclusively provided to NBC News by WPA Intelligence, a GOP political consulting firm. The poll showed 41% of likely voters surveyed said the Dobbs decision, which did away with constitutional protections for abortion, made them more likely to vote for a Democrat; 24% said it made them more likely to back Republicans.
Asked which group they identified with in the abortion debate, 54% said “Pro Choice,” compared to 39% who identified as “Pro Life.”
The findings are consistent with those of another recent survey shared with NBC News, conducted by the firm OnMessage Inc., which consults for Senate Republicans. It suggests “Pro Choice” voters outnumbered “Pro Life” voters by a similar margin of 17 percentage points, triple what it was before the Supreme Court’s ruling.
No wonder many Republicans would prefer to talk about anything else. Some GOP candidates have backtracked on their calls for a total ban — Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters went as far as to scrub his campaign website of his support for a “federal personhood law.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., downplayed the odds that a national ban on abortion would become a reality any time soon at an appearance in June.
No wonder many Republicans would prefer to talk about anything else.
Graham’s bill is even more baffling when you consider that it doesn’t go nearly as far as Republican legislators in many states — including Graham’s own, albeit unsuccessfully — have pushed in outlawing abortions. It also doesn’t go as far as the bill backed by the House Republican Study Committee, the caucus’s conservative policy shop. Its proposed 2023 budget would support a so-called heartbeat bill, which would outlaw abortions just six weeks after conception.
Graham has tried to explain that this new “compromise” bill — which is stricter than a proposed 20-week ban that he has introduced repeatedly and uses the completely nonmedical term "late term abortion" — is needed only because of Democratic messaging around codifying Roe’s protections in law. But within hours of his announcement, Republicans and other conservatives were already distancing themselves from his proposal.
"Most of the members of my conference prefer that this be dealt with at the state level," McConnell told reporters Tuesday. A top Republican strategist involved in Senate campaigns told NBC News: "Unless our Senate candidates already have that position, it just highlights how much more extreme they are for this position. Stupid, just stupid."
It's worth noting that there is absolutely no chance that Graham’s bill will become law. Democrats control the House and the White House, meaning that even if by some miracle the bill got through a filibuster in the Senate, it would still be DOA. That having been said, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., likely wouldn’t even put Graham’s bill up for a vote. (But honestly, what if he did? Let Republicans have to explain why they voted for a nationwide abortion ban or argue against the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold for a change.)
So this all raises the question: Who was this bill really for? What does any GOP candidate in a close race gain from being asked whether they will support this bill? When 61% of Americans believe abortions should be legal in all or most cases, how does offering up this bill just two months before the midterms help retake the Senate? And when Democrats are warning about a national ban on abortion should the GOP reclaim power, why go out of your way to let them say, “I told you so”?
The bill honestly doesn’t even help Graham, who not only isn’t up for re-election until 2026 but also now has members of his own party angry with him. He tried to explain Tuesday that it’s about setting up a long-term goal and predicted that “maybe less than a decade from now, this bill will become law.” Given the immediate reaction to his bill, that feels optimistic — if not slightly delusional.