Senator Lindsey Graham was proposing legislation on Tuesday for a nationwide 15-week abortion ban, a politically risky strategy as a backlash grows to the supreme court ruling earlier this summer overturning federal protections for the procedure.
Polling shows that 57% of Americans disapproved of the court’s June reversal of the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling guaranteeing access to abortion, and 62% say the procedure should be legal in all or most cases.
The proposal by Graham, a hardline South Carolina Republican, will be called the “Protecting Pain-capable Unborn Children from Late-term Abortions Act”. It stands next to no chance of becoming law, but is seen by analysts as an attempt to frame the discussion around abortion, with fewer than 60 days until the midterms.
Republicans in states including South Carolina have seen recent efforts to introduce abortion bans falter, and Democrats are certain to use Graham’s push to fire up their base and repeat earlier warnings that their opponents’ agenda has always been the pursuit of outlawing abortion nationally.
Previous versions of Graham’s bill have outlawed abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, but at a press conference on Tuesday he was unveiling a proposed ban that takes effect after 15 weeks, an attempt to align federal law with Florida.
Graham’s earlier proposals contained exceptions for rape, incest, and to protect the life of the mother, which the Florida law does not.
Even if Republicans seize control of the chamber in November, his bill is unlikely to pass because the current Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, has indicated he would be unwilling to lift the filibuster – a procedure that requires a bill to win the support of 60 senators – for the abortion issue.
McConnell, and Republicans generally, have taken note of developments since the fall of Roe v Wade. While nine Republican-controlled states moved quickly to enact abortion bans, others have witnessed a significant backlash.
In Kansas, a staunchly conservative state, voters last month rejected abortion restrictions by a large margin, and pro-choice advocates recorded a notable victory earlier this month when the Michigan supreme court ruled 5-2 that the fate of an abortion ban would be in the hands of the midterms electorate rather than the state legislature.
Democratic candidates have seized on the apparent momentum. In Pennsylvania, Senate hopeful John Fetterman told a weekend rally that abortion rights were at the top of his agenda. “Women are the reason we can win. Don’t piss off women,” he said.
According to research by TargetSmart, a polling analysis company, Pennsylvania ranks fifth in states showing large gaps in registration numbers between men and women since the US supreme court overturned Roe v Wade.
Increasing numbers of Republican candidates running for election in November’s midterms, meanwhile, have been softening their stance over abortion in an attempt to shore up votes.
They include Senate candidate Blake Masters of Arizona, whose campaign website once stated that he supported a “federal personhood law” and that he was “100% pro-life”. His website now says, “Protect babies, don’t let them be killed,” followed with, “Democrats lie about my views on abortion.”
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B Anthony Pro-Life America group that is promoting Graham’s legislation, said in a statement that “radical Democrats [are] pushing an extreme agenda of abortion on demand until birth, paid for by the taxpayer, leaving countless unborn babies and mothers unprotected from the violence of abortion.”
She called on Congress to “find consensus on a minimum federal standard that reflects the values of the overwhelming majority of Americans”, citing a Harvard Harris poll from June that suggested 79% of Americans wanted abortions limited to 15 weeks.
The same poll, however, also found that 55% opposed the overturning of Roe v Wade.