IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Despite earlier vows, Lindsey Graham eyes national abortion ban

Democrats have repeatedly warned voters that Republicans will pursue a national abortion ban. Lindsey Graham is proving them right.


After Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices overturned Roe v. Wade, Sen. Lindsey Graham didn’t just celebrate the outcome, he also touted the process that would soon follow.

As the South Carolinian wrote in June, it will now be up to “elected officials in the states to decide” whether their constituents can have reproductive rights. Last month, the GOP senator boasted on CNN about how “consistent” he’s been in arguing that “states should decide the issue of abortion.”

Like so many of Graham’s stated principles, which he discards whenever it suits his purposes, the Republican apparently didn’t mean what he said. NBC News reported:

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., will introduce abortion-related legislation on Tuesday, according to his office. It’s expected to call for a 15-week ban nationwide, with exceptions for rape, incest and safeguarding the life of the mother, three sources said.

Since the NBC News report was first published, the text of the senator’s legislation was formally introduced. The preliminary assessments were accurate: Graham’s bill, called the “Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions Act,” would prohibit abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

It would include exceptions for rape, incest and protecting the life of those who are pregnant, though it would also allow states to impose harsher restrictions if they want to. It also does not appear to make exceptions for severe fetal abnormalities.

There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s break down the bill and the strategy behind it.

This was inevitable. After Roe was struck down, Republicans like Graham paid lip service to a state-by-state model, but the party’s far-right members and their allies made clear that this would never be sufficient. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told her members in May, “Republicans have made clear that their goal will be to seek to criminalize abortion nationwide.” Today’s developments help prove her right.

This is poorly named. A typical human pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks. To ban abortions after 15 weeks and call it a ban on “late-term” abortions is to strip words of their plain meaning.

This is medically dangerous. The vast majority of terminated pregnancies in the United States happen before the 15-week mark. The exceptions tend to be medically necessary responses to potentially dangerous pregnancies. These are the ones that will be targeted by this bill, creating a federal law that leaves Americans with no blue-state islands of refuge.

This is part of a clumsy political strategy. Republicans are struggling badly with the issue in the wake of Roe’s demise, and Graham’s bill appears to be part of an effort to give GOP officials something concrete to run on, allowing the party to define its own goals instead of letting Democrats do it. What’s more, a 15-week ban might appear more “moderate” than, say, a complete ban. But...

This divides the GOP and unites Democrats. As Democrats on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue rush to condemn Graham’s bill, some of the South Carolinian’s own Republican colleagues are not overly eager to endorse his proposal. As a rule, successful politics is about uniting allies and dividing opponents — and this does the opposite.

This is exactly what Democrats hoped to see. With eight weeks remaining before Election Day 2022, Democrats are eager to tell voters that Republicans want a national abortion ban. Graham just handed them a piñata to hit repeatedly for the next 55 days.

This was pitched in a way that will appear in campaign ads. With a Democratic majority in the House and Senate, a national abortion ban obviously stands no chance of success. But Graham declared today, out loud and on camera, “If [Republicans] take back the House and Senate, I can assure you we’ll have a vote” on his legislation.

Prepare to see and hear that quote quite a bit over the next eight weeks.