South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham has introduced a federal proposal to place reasonable limits on abortion.
The bill would set a national 15-week limit on the practice, includes exceptions for cases of rape and incest and to protect the life of the mother. It would allow state limits on abortion (such as Texas’ fetal-heartbeat law and criminal ban on most abortions) to stand.
Nothing should be controversial about Graham’s legislation.
Fifteen weeks is well into the second trimester, when (to the “clump of cells” crowd) the unborn baby is about the size of a pear.
And as even some honest abortion supporters discovered prior to the landmark Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, an early second trimester ban would align the United States with abortion laws throughout most of Europe. It would be even a bit more permissive in some cases.
Still, the proposal was met with predictable consternation among Democrats. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York was quick to call it “extreme.”
If he wants to talk about extreme abortion policy, Jeffries need look no further than his own party’s attempt to enshrine abortion on-demand — and even up until birth — into national law. Polling has showed that more than 70% of Americans believe abortion should be illegal in the third trimester.
But I digress.
If anything is truly at issue about Graham’s bill, it is the timing — in the tenuous wake of the Dobbs ruing and less than two months before crucial midterm elections.
That’s why Graham, often viewed as a centrist among conservatives, has met with resistance from some more conservative members of his own party.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn noted the preference among some conservatives to leave decisions about abortion rules to the states.
“I would keep an open mind on this, but my preference would be for those decisions to be made on a state-by-state basis,” he told Politico.
That is, of course, what many pro-lifers have argued for decades.
It’s also ultimately what the U.S. Supreme Court allowed for in Dobbs — that because there is no right to an abortion in the Constitution, states must be left to determine under what circumstances the procedure may occur.
Many states quickly banned most abortions under “trigger” laws. Others have worked to restrict abortions after Dobbs, some with more success than others. That was expected. Abortion opponents recognize that the effort to win hearts and minds has only just begun.
But working to restrict abortions at the state level is not intellectually inconsistent with a national ban.
And while thoughtful, Constitution-based arguments are made by pro-life conservatives for why abortion policies are a decision for the states and the states alone, better arguments can be pushed for why the Constitution demands protections for the unborn.
With the midterms only weeks away, the Democratic Party is desperate to distract from inflation, a floundering economy and an illegal immigration problem that has reached crisis levels. So it is doubling down on the one issue that might generate some enthusiasm among its voters: abortion.
The party’s position on abortion — available in some circumstances until birth — is outside of the mainstream. But polling has also shown an increase in support for legal abortion since the Dobbs decision was issued.
“I don’t think there’s an appetite for a national platform here,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., when asked about Graham’s bill.
That is at least in part because the pro-life movement has been fighting a truculent national media.
But it is also because after such a massive victory, some ardent abortion opponents have forgotten that thoughtful persuasion and patience, coupled with a robust and well-publicized effort to assist women in crisis pregnancies, is the way to win the argument.
In Graham’s defense, a 15-week abortion ban (with exceptions) could be considered incremental. It’s close to what many Americans said they were comfortable with prior to Dobbs.
But America is on a new footing now, and Americans may not be ready yet. Forcing the issue now could make it harder for them to get there.
Allen writes for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in Texas: firstname.lastname@example.org.