Senate Republicans led by Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced federal anti-abortion legislation on Tuesday — the first of its kind since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.
The Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions Act prohibits abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy and provides some exceptions in cases of rape, incest and to protect the life of the pregnant person. A physician who violates the law could face up to five years in prison.
The rape exemption requires that patients prove they’ve either sought counseling or medical treatment or reported the assault to law enforcement or a government agency. The life exemption excludes patients who have a life-threatening mental illness.
The bill, which could force national Republicans in tight races to take a stand on an issue they hoped to avoid, also requires that when abortions happen post-viability under these exemptions, “a second physician trained in neonatal resuscitation” has to be present and the fetus has to be “immediately transported and admitted to a hospital.”
During a Tuesday press conference, Graham said the bill is an effort to identify what Republicans stand for and called it a “counterproposal” to Democrats’ efforts to restore protections for abortion nationwide.
“After they introduced a bill to define who they are, I thought it’d be nice to introduce one to define who we are,” he said.
Asked why the bill sets the limit at 15 weeks when many past versions he’s introduced barred the procedure after 20 weeks, Graham noted that the Mississippi law that led to the Supreme Court overturning Roe was a 15-week ban, and cited European countries with similar restrictions.
Why it matters: Abortion is a top issue for registered voters, according to the latest POLITICO-Harvard poll, and with just two months to the midterm elections, both Republicans and Democrats are working to show it is the other party that has the extreme view.
With his proposal, Graham is wading into a heated debate within his party over how far anti-abortion laws should go now that Roe has been overturned. In many states, Republicans are fighting among themselves over whether to pursue near-total bans or take a more incremental approach. Many anti-abortion groups and lawmakers insist a 15-week limit is too lenient, as the vast majority of abortions in the country take place before that point in pregnancy.
Still, Graham insists the bill will help his party in the midterms.
“I don’t think this is going to hurt us,” he said Tuesday. “It will more likely hurt [Democrats] when they try to explain their position to a reasonable person.”
Meanwhile, Democrats said Graham’s move belies the GOP argument that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade would return power to the states on the procedure. Instead, they said Republicans are eager to pass a national law outlawing abortion.
“Proposals like the one today send a clear message from MAGA Republicans to women across the country: your body, our choice,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday. “And let me add this: 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.”
Schumer’s office did not immediately respond to questions about whether he’d bring Graham’s legislation to the floor for a vote.
Graham acknowledged the legislation has no chance in a Democratically controlled Congress with President Joe Biden in the White House, but said he is playing a long game.
“Maybe less than a decade from now this will become law,” he said.
Around the country: Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe in June, abortion has become prohibited starting at conception, with limited exceptions, in a dozen states. Two more states prohibit abortion after the detection of fetal cardiac activity, usually around six weeks of pregnancy. Indiana’s law, which bans abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to protect the life of the pregnant person, takes effect Thursday. Indiana is the only state that has passed significant new restrictions since Roe fell, though bills are still being debated in South Carolina and West Virginia.
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