Less than two months before the midterm elections, Sen. Lindsey Graham on Tuesday introduced a bill that would impose a nationwide ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The measure, the first GOP effort to ban abortion at the national level since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, contains exceptions for cases of rape, incest or when a mother’s life is in danger but otherwise would restrict abortions after the point when Graham, citing medical research, claimed a fetus’ nerves develop enough to feel pain.
“Our legislation, which bans abortion after 15 weeks gestation, will put the United States abortion policy in line with other developed nations such as France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Spain and other European nations,” Graham said Tuesday.
He and leaders of various anti-abortion and women’s organizations have repeatedly argued that, without a federal abortion ban, the U.S. would be like North Korea, China, Iran and Syria, which he contended allow “abortion on demand.”
But it is far from clear whether Graham has much support from his fellow Republicans, who appeared deeply divided Tuesday over whether to enact federal abortion restrictions.
Even if the GOP were to regain control of the Senate in November, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican, said he didn’t know if Republicans would proceed with a floor vote on Graham’s measure.
Likewise, just a few of the GOP Senate candidates in competitive races immediately voiced support for the measure, including Arizona’s Blake Masters and Georgia’s Herschel Walker. Joe O’Dea, a moderate Republican running to unseat Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet in Colorado, told the Denver Post he did not back Graham’s bill and called for “balance on the abortion issue.”
Graham’s legislation would require 60 votes to advance in the Senate, leaving the South Carolina conservative well short of the necessary support for passage in the current chamber. A companion bill was introduced in the House by GOP Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey.
Senate Republicans in recent months have blocked multiple Democratic attempts to codify a right to an abortion and protect doctors who perform the procedure.
“I hope we get to debate on it and vote on it,” Graham said at s Tuesday press conference, surrounded by anti-abortion rights advocates. “They [Democrats] had the chance to vote on their bill. I’m asking for a chance to vote on my bill.”
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who previously opened the door to a possible national abortion ban, appeared to shut down chances of a vote on Graham’s legislation.
“I think most of the members of my conference prefer this be dealt with at the state level,” said McConnell, R-Ky.
The move by Graham, on a day when Republicans had hoped to focus on poor inflation numbers, put some of his colleagues in an awkward political position.
Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina told reporters he would rather stress issues other than abortion.
“I, for one, want to focus on the inflation numbers that came out today, the imminent potential strike with [freight] railway workers. That’s what people are talking about,” said Tillis.
GOP Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, one of the party’s most vulnerable incumbents who supported Mississippi’s desire to ban most abortions in the Dobbs v. Jackson case the Supreme Court decided in June, indicated he would not support federal intervention.
“At this point in time, nothing is going to pass Congress. It’s got to be decided in the states. I think that is the appropriate place for this to be decided,” Johnson told ABC News on Tuesday.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas signed on to that idea, too, telling ABC News, “My preference is to have each state handle those issues.” Cornyn previously supported a 20-week federal ban on most abortions that Graham introduced in 2020, but he said Tuesday that that was before the Supreme Court overturned Roe, sending the issue back to the states.
At least 15 states have ceased nearly all abortion services since June, ABC News reports.
The new proposal from Graham also marks a departure from recent comments where he, too, said abortion was an issue best left to the states, tweeting in May: “If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, which I believe was one of the largest power grabs in the history of the Court, it means that every state will decide if abortion is legal and on what terms.”
On Tuesday, Graham defended his change in position, saying, “After they [Democrats] introduced a bill to define who they are, I thought it would be nice to introduce a bill to define who we [Republicans] are.”
Some anti-abortion rights advocates said that, while they support Graham’s proposal, they think it doesn’t go far enough.
Democrats, buoyed by a newly-energized base and surprise election victories on the heels of the Dobbs decision, instantly seized on the Graham legislation as evidence Republicans are pushing what Democrats say are radical policies that will curb Americans’ rights from abortion to gay marriage and beyond, an argument that their candidates are making on the trail.
“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. “Republicans are twisting themselves in a pretzel trying to explain their position on abortion.”
One of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents in the upcoming midterms, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, tweeted, “I will block any efforts in the Senate to advance a nationwide abortion ban — full stop. We don’t need any more male politicians telling women what we can and can’t do with our own bodies.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre slammed Graham’s proposal, saying it is “wildly out of step with what Americans believe.”
“While President Biden and Vice President Harris are focused on the historic passage of the Inflation Reduction Act to reduce the cost of prescription drugs, health care, and energy – and to take unprecedented action to address climate change – Republicans in Congress are focused on taking rights away from millions of women. The President and Vice President are fighting for progress, while Republicans are fighting to take us back,” Jean-Pierre said in a statement, echoing the midterm messaging from Biden in recent weeks.
“After all the posturing and all the obfuscating, here we have it. The true Republican position in black and white for everyone to see,” said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, who is leading her campaign for reelection on this issue.
Recent polling suggests that abortion rights enjoy broad support among the public, including an Ipsos poll from August that found most Americans would vote to protect abortion access at the state level.
ABC News’ Libby Cathey, Lalee Ibssa, Molly Nagle, Benjamin Siegel and Trish Turner contributed to this report.