WASHINGTON — It took fellow Republicans just hours to overturn Senator Lindsey Graham’s 15-week national abortion ban on Tuesday.
From the halls of Congress to the campaign trail, Republicans attacked the bill as a distraction that divides the GOP and reminds voters that most of them see the party as too extreme on abortion.
“Bad idea,” says Chris Mottola, a GOP strategist and advertising executive. “It rips open a political sore. The political environment turned back to economic issues. It nationalizes an issue that works against Republicans in general.”
Graham introduced his bill, which would ban abortion after 15 weeks in most cases, just eight weeks before the midterm elections, and at a time when some Republican candidates are rushing to distance themselves from their own previous stances on abortion.
Now it is Republican leaders, ordinary lawmakers and political strategists who are distancing themselves from Graham. While his bill doesn’t stand a chance with Democrats who control the House, Senate and White House, it immediately gave Democrats ammunition to argue that Republicans will ban abortion if they win power in Washington.
Even Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., distanced himself from federal law.
“Most members of my conference prefer that this be addressed at the state level,” McConnell told reporters on Tuesday.
At the other end of the GOP spectrum, Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, rejected Graham’s proposal, noting her support for federal abortion protections. Likewise, Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, said “a much better approach” would be its bipartisan legislation that would essentially codify Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that was quashed this year.
Collins declined to comment on Graham’s political wisdom submitting his legislation ahead of the midterms.
Rather than create a consensus point for GOP candidates, Graham’s plan puts them on the ground — and on the defensive — rather than in a position to attack President Joe Biden on issues that favor them more, GOP strategists said.
“Believe me, Republicans want to talk about economics and Biden,” said an adviser to Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, speaking on condition of anonymity to reflect the thinking of the re-election campaign. “We don’t want this debate. It doesn’t help.”
Some Republicans have been more cautious, arguing that it remains to be seen whether Graham’s bill gives more to Republicans or Democrats.
“Look, it’s a turnout steroid in the arm to take out the base in November,” Republican strategist John Porter said. “The question is whether the juice is worth squeezing” in terms of energetic Republican voters making up for the loss of ticket splitters in swing states.
The proposal offers Republican House and Senate candidates a measure that some conservatives hope will counteract a wave of Democrat votes after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturned abortion protections in June.
But as McConnell’s comments pointed out, Graham’s federal law posed a fundamental problem with reporting: It ran counter to Republican talking points that states should rule on the matter.
The bill, which would not affect stricter state restrictions on abortion, would ban the procedure after 15 weeks, except in cases where the mother’s life is in danger or the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest.
A physician would be required to determine the gestational age of the fetus, including through the use of “medical examinations and tests as a reasonably prudent physician, knowledgeable of the matter and the medical conditions involved, would deem necessary to make an accurate determination of gestational age.”
Graham pitched his move as a contrast to Democrats’ support for a federal law protecting the right to abortion.
“After Roe vs. Wade was quashed, Democrats in Congress rallied behind pro-choice legislation that allows abortion up to the time of birth,” Graham said in a statement. “I consider the Democrats’ proposal radical and one that Americans will ultimately reject. Our legislation is a responsible alternative because we provide exceptions for cases of rape, incest and the life and physical health of the mother.”
But Democrats and abortion rights groups say Graham is misrepresenting their stance and will only support late abortions if a medical professional determines that the mother’s health is at risk. She tore the bill, with White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre calling it “wildly out of step with what Americans believe” in a statement.
Graham’s bill comes at a time when some Republican candidates are struggling to erase past positions in favor of a blanket abortion ban and seeking safer political ground. Republican agents have warned the party’s candidates that voters view the party as too extreme on abortion before the midterm elections.
The data supports that.
Voters view Republicans as more extreme than Democrats on abortion — 51% to 32% in battlefield states — according to polls conducted by WPA Intelligence, a political advisory firm of the GOP. The survey found that 41% of likely voters are more likely to vote for a Democrat and 24% more likely to vote for a Republican because of the Dobbs decision.
Republican agents have reason to view Graham’s 15-week ban bill as a compromise between factions of the GOP — one that opposes abortion in all circumstances and one that favors fewer restrictions. While federal law is less strict than state laws and proposals that have alienated many voters, it’s still not a popular idea.
While 52% of Americans oppose legislation that would ban abortion after 15 weeks, only 21% of Republicans oppose it, according to a July survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute.
The quick response from Democrats and abortion rights groups on Tuesday indicated an eagerness to keep the issue at the forefront of voters for the next two months.
“Republicans in Congress against Abortion Rights are showing us exactly what they plan to do if they take power: enact a national abortion ban,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which supports abortion rights. “They have seen the horror and dangerous consequences of abortion bans in states across the country and have made it their national agenda. The brutality is the point, and we have to take them at their word.”
On Tuesday, Graham seemed to be getting fire from all sides, especially from Republicans who say he handed a gift to Democratic candidates.
“Unless our Senate candidates already have that position, it just shows how more extreme they are for this position,” said a top Republican strategist involved in Senate campaigns. “Stupid, just stupid.”
Republican senators avoided directly criticizing Graham while expressing their preference to talk about other topics.
“For example, I want to focus on the inflation numbers that came out today. The impending potential railroad workers’ strike is what people are talking about,” Senator Thom Tillis, RN.C., said. “People who need to spend $113 instead of $100 getting ready to get their kids back to school — that’s the way we should be focusing.”
When asked whether he supported Graham’s legislation, Tillis drew attention to the fact that Graham once favored a 20-week pregnancy limit for abortions, which he has now shaved at five weeks.
“I’ve supported the 20-week, I haven’t looked at the new legislation,” Tillis said.[thenewlegislation”Tillissaid[thenewlegislation”Tillissaid