I guess it’s not up to the states, after all.
When the Supreme Court sent shockwaves through the nation’s reproductive rights landscape by overturning Roe v. Wade with its Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision on June 24, many congressional Republicans assured their constituents they wouldn’t pursue a federal ban. However, now that Roe is no longer the floor for abortion rights, these same lawmakers are proposing some concerning (but not surprising) anti-choice legislation. Here’s why you should be paying attention to South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham’s 15-week national abortion ban proposal, and how it may signal an even more dismal future for the United States’ reproductive rights landscape if unchecked.
Graham’s proposed legislation, officially titled the “Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions Act,” was introduced on Sept. 13, and it would establish a nationwide ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for rape, incest, and the health of the patient. While the bill is unlikely to pass through a congressional vote with a Democratic-led majority, it signals a Republican stance that many abortion rights advocates have long suspected: “For the hard right, this has never been about states’ rights,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a Sept. 13 statement on the Senate floor. “This has always been about making abortion illegal,” he added, calling Graham’s proposed legislation a “radical bill to institute a nationwide ban on abortions.”
People all over the internet have slated the bill as a signal that even more anti-choice attacks on reproductive freedoms are on the way.
Following the introduction of Graham’s bill, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made it clear that he wasn’t on the same page. “With regard to his bill, you’ll have to ask him about it. In terms of scheduling, I think most of the members of my conference prefer that this be dealt with at the state level,” the Republican from Kentucky told reporters in a Sept. 13 news conference on Capitol Hill. Leaving it up to the states was a way for Republicans to argue they didn’t want a national abortion ban (although abortion is fully banned in 12 states and partially banned in five more as of Sept. 14, per a New York Times ban tracker), but Graham’s introduction of the national 15-week ban upends the party line to leave decisions up to the states.
In response to a question at his Sept. 13 press conference about the flip from state decisions to a national ban, Sen. Graham said this bill was meant to “define who we are,” likely referring to anti-choice Republicans.
Reproductive rights advocates were quick to respond. “Sen. Graham’s proposed bill is a lot of things. It is despicable, medically and scientifically inaccurate, and cruel. But it is not unsurprising,” Jamila Perritt, President and CEO of Physicians for Reproductive Health (PRH) wrote it a Sept. 13 statement. “Overturning Roe v. Wade was never the end goal for anti-abortion politicians,” she added.
The new bill itself hinges on banning what it refers to as “late-term abortions” at 15 weeks — well before fetal viability, which occurs at approximately 24 weeks. But the majority of health care professionals don’t use the phrase “late-term abortion,” and according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the term is “a biased, nonmedical phrase intended to appropriate clinical language in order to misconstrue the reality of patient care.”
Later in pregnancy abortions, as the ACOG refers to them, are rare, too — only around 6.2% of abortions occur at 14 to 20 weeks gestation, per a 2019 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When an abortion does happen after 13 weeks, it “typically occurs as a result of complications in the life or pregnancy of a pregnant person.”
The ACOG responded to Graham’s bill with a Sept. 13 statement on Twitter, calling out misinformation and its attempt to strip the rights of patients. It reads, in part, “The proposed legislation, which would prohibit needed abortions at the arbitrary gestational age of 15 weeks, is predicated on false claims of gestational development of pain response, propagates inflammatory rhetoric, and represents another callous example of governmental intrusion into the practice of medicine.”
Stringent state bans on abortion have already resulted in dire consequences for both patients and health care providers. Abortion clinics have grown overwhelmed with patients seeking care from other states, while many patients can’t even afford to travel to access the care they need. Even before Roe’s overturn, resources were scarce. “To be able to afford the abortions that [people are] needing and wanting, they often have to stretch the means and [make] decisions between rent, food, [and] child care,” Destini Spaeth, president at The North Dakota Women in Need Fund, told Elite Daily in a June 10 interview.
While abortion access is becoming more and more limited in the absence of Roe, there are actions you can take in your state to ensure people get the reproductive health care they need. To find and donate to a local abortion fund in your area, you can visit the National Network of Abortion Funds and locate an organization near you. As Perritt reiterated in her Sept. 13 statement, the fight is not over: “Anti-abortion extremists are far from finished and we must do whatever is necessary to protect the lives of our patients and communities from further attacks on our ability to choose if, when, and how to start a family.”