Graham’s 15-week abortion ban bill is dead weight around GOP neck

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Republican Senator Lindsey Graham managed to anger moderate and conservative wings of her party with a perilous abortion gamble dropped on Tuesday afternoon, just weeks before the November election. Its deployment is a strategic error.

Graham introduced a bill to create a federal ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy (except in cases of rape, incest or risk to the life of the mother), leaving states the option of enact even stricter laws. While I agree with Graham’s goal of saving unborn babies and respect the support for the bill from venerable pro-life groups like Susan B. Anthony List, introducing it in this way is ineffective in the long arc of the pro-life cause.

It’s a decision that undermines Republicans who agree with the Supreme Court to send the case directly to “We The People.” And that has angered progressives who want to arm him for November.

It’s a decision that undermines Republicans who agree with the Supreme Court to send the case directly to “We The People.” And that has angered progressives who want to arm him for November.

Predictably, Democrats pounced, seizing Graham’s bill on the same day President Joe Biden is expected to be on defense, given a painful inflation report whose release led to the worst stock market fall since June 2020. This comes on the heels of a Friday report from the US Federal Reserve that shows household and non-profit wealth in the US has fallen a staggering record 6 $.1 trillion in the second quarter of 2022, even though household debt grew at an annual rate of 7.4% as consumers piled up credit card debt to keep up with inflation.

Graham, who is not eligible for re-election until 2026, is forcing Republicans to step off the ball and grab the oxygen from the news cycle that should be spent helping embattled GOP candidates across the country. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Tuesday pointed to Graham’s about-face.

“I will quote Lindsey Graham from August 7, 2022,” Jean-Pierre said. “And he said, ‘I’ve been consistent: I think states should decide the issue of marriage and states should decide the issue of abortion. It’s from his own mouth.

Not only does it seem inconsistent, but in practice Graham’s bill would ban very few abortions, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Similar to previous years, more than 90% of the nearly 630,000 abortions reported in 2019 (the latest year available, although the figure is undoubtedly higher as the CDC report excludes California, Maryland and New Hampshire ) were performed at less than 13 weeks of gestation, 6.2% at 14 to 20 weeks, and less than 1.0% at more than 21 weeks. Thus, according to Graham’s philosophy, nearly 60 million of the more than 63 million abortions performed in America since Roe v. Wade from 1973 should be allowed.

In some ways, this bill is a Rorschach test. It goes too far or not far enough, leaving everyone unsatisfied. For people like me who would prefer only limited exceptions where a mother’s life is at risk, Graham gets by pushing for a 15-week ban. For us, Graham’s bill is too loose and could have a deflationary effect on conservative grassroots turnout if the de facto GOP platform allows the deaths of millions of unborn children. If I was in the Senate, yes, I would vote for it because it would save lives. But Graham’s strategy here is weak.

Essentially, gift-wrapping Graham’s bill for Democrats is a corner talking point while in practice delivering limited vital results under a bill that is very unlikely to be adopted. Naturally, that’s why Graham’s GOP Senate colleagues rejected his move to Politico, with West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito saying, “I don’t know what he’s thinking here. But I don’t think there will be a rally around this concept,” and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, saying Republican senators “prefer this to be dealt with at the state level.”

Even given the reaction of his own party leader, Graham is highly unlikely to gain enough support to circumvent the filibuster. He might argue that it’s worth putting Democratic senators on the record, especially when more voters than not support a 15-week abortion ban. A Harvard CAPS-Harris poll from June found that 60% of Democrats, 84% of Republicans and 70% of independents support such a measure, which was essentially the policy upheld when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mississippi in Dobbs v. Jackson. So in that regard, Graham has broad support among voters for his bill, but life is all about crucial timing.

If Graham can’t even get a floor vote, he’s just throwing a dead weight around his party’s neck at a time when Republicans need to stay focused on the fights they can win, including economic issues, crime and even now education reform.

Graham has a branding problem within his own party. The conservative base thinks he’s a squishy shapeshifter and not a rock-solid conservative (e.g. he’s only got a 57% life rating and a current rating of 69% from the conservative Heritage Foundation brand ), while the liberal press tries to paint Graham as an extreme supporter of MAGA. He might make this move to try to shine his credentials, but it will only backfire.

We are weeks away from a national election. It is rushed and problematic for Graham to pursue this course of action. There is still time for him to walk away from this flawed proposition and instead help the beleaguered men and women trying to win seats in nationwide races. He can do this by listening and helping raise funds instead of making their lives more difficult.

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