Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., listens during a news conference to discuss the introduction of the Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions Act on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib) Congress Abortion
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., listens during a news conference to discuss the introduction of the Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions Act on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

“If we take back the House and the Senate, I can assure you we’ll have a vote on our bill,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said on Tuesday. “If the Democrats are in charge, I don’t know if we’ll ever have a vote on our bill.” 

Reproductive freedom will be on the ballot in November. Republicans made that clear this week when Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and more than 80 House Republicans — including U.S. Senate candidate Ted Budd — introduced a bill to ban abortion nationwide after 15 weeks.

The bill would leave in place existing state bans that are more restrictive but would override current bans after 15 weeks and outlaw abortion in states where it’s currently permitted under state law. 

Abortion is currently legal in North Carolina up to 20 weeks, making it one of the only relatively safe havens in the South. But that could change after this fall’s elections, with Republicans needing just 5 seats in the state legislature to claim a veto-proof majority. That would make vetoes from Gov. Roy Cooper, an abortion rights supporter, difficult to uphold if the GOP moves to roll back reproductive freedoms.

Republicans also need to win just one of two races for the state Supreme Court, giving them a majority on a high court that could be the last bulwark for abortion rights

Federal Republicans like Graham and Budd are hoping to make what happens at the state level moot with their nationwide abortion ban. 

“I think we should have a law at the federal level that would say, after 15 weeks, no abortion on demand except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother,” Graham said at a news conference this week, leaving out the fact that his bill still forces rape victims to jump through hoops to seek abortion care.

House Republicans also introduced a version of the bill on Tuesday, with 85 GOP lawmakers—including North Carolina congressional reps Dan Bishop, Virginia Foxx, Richard Hudson, David Rouzer, and Budd —signing onto the nationwide abortion ban. 

The legislation all but confirms what reproductive freedom advocates and Democrats have been arguing even before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade: that the Republican claim that they want to leave abortion up to the states is a lie and that a national ban is next on their agenda.  

While Graham’s bill stands no chance of passing with Democrats in control of the Senate, it makes the stakes of November’s elections crystal clear. 

“If we take back the House and the Senate, I can assure you we’ll have a vote on our bill,” Graham said on Tuesday. “If the Democrats are in charge, I don’t know if we’ll ever have a vote on our bill.” 

The Races That Matter in NC

All 14 of North Carolina’s congressional districts are up for election this year. None of the Republican candidates support abortion rights; all of the Democratic candidates do. 

Meanwhile, the state’s U.S. Senate race is one of the most crucial, pitting Budd against former NC Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, a supporter of abortion rights. 

This week, Beasley denounced Budd for cosponsoring the House version of the abortion ban. “I was taught that actions speak louder than words,” Beasley wrote in a tweet Wednesday, “and Budd has shown that he will lead the charge to take away our personal freedoms as senator. Full stop.”

Beasley has also expressed support for codifying abortion protections into federal law if she wins in November. 

The Biden administration also blasted the proposed ban and reiterated the president’s support for efforts to restore reproductive freedom nationwide. 

“This bill is wildly out of step with what Americans believe,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement. “President Biden and Congressional Democrats are committed to restoring the protections of Roe v. Wade in the face of continued radical steps by elected Republicans to put personal health care decisions in the hands of politicians instead of women and their doctors, threatening women’s health and lives.”

Do voters want this?

Not at all, the polling says.

Overwhelming majorities of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases and oppose 15-week bans.  In North Carolina, polls have consistently shown the majority of voters want to maintain abortion access, and only about a third of voters want new restrictions. 

A national ban is even more unpopular, according to research from Data for Progress, a polling firm whose analysis found there’s not a single state where more than 30% of voters support a national ban.

15 Weeks Is Not a Late-Term Abortion

Republicans have tried to claim the 15-week ban proposal is a commonsense measure to ban “late-term abortions,” a misleading phrase used by anti-abortion activists. 

Previously, the term has been used to refer to abortions after 21 weeks—which make up fewer than 1% of all abortions and almost exclusively happen in cases of maternal health problems and fetal anomalies. 

Now, Graham and House Republicans are making the factually incorrect claim that any abortion after 15 weeks is “late-term.”

In reality, their bill would ban abortion right around the time in pregnancy that abnormalities and complications are first able to be detected, forcing women to either obtain illegal abortions or leave the country to terminate their pregnancies. 

Reproductive freedom advocates were quick to call out the misleading rhetoric and the danger of Graham’s proposal.

“15 weeks is not ‘late term,’ particularly given the significant challenges to access around the country,” Christina Reynolds, vice president of communications at Emily’s List, wrote in a tweet. “Let’s be clear: this is their first step to a full ban.”

Statements from anti-abortion activists suggest Reynolds’ prediction is accurate. 

“I think the place to begin is where Graham is beginning,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, told The Washington Post before the bill’s introduction, suggesting that Graham’s 15-week ban was not the end goal for anti-abortion conservatives.

And while Graham’s proposal makes exceptions for rape, incest, and when “necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman,” the bill erects numerous hurdles for rape victims to bypass as they seek abortion care.

An adult rape victim would be forced to seek counseling or medical treatment from a government-licensed facility and then wait 48 hours before obtaining an abortion. The victim would also be forced to provide documentation showing they complied with the requirement to their abortion provider prior to receiving services.

The barriers for child victims of rape are even more onerous, as physicians would be required to report the rape to a child welfare or law enforcement agency prior to offering care. 

Providers would also be obligated to perform abortions using a method “provides the best opportunity for the unborn child to survive.” 

This clause seems to suggest that there would be certain cases in which doctors would be forced to induce labor rather than terminate a pregnancy—which means some victims of rape and incest could be forced to give birth, even with Graham’s so-called exceptions.