South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham’s recent proposal of a national 15-week abortion ban could be a headache for Republicans leading up to the midterm elections.
The GOP senator’s bill contained exceptions in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. However, it has been publicly rejected by at least 14 of his Republican Senate colleagues.
With abortion an increasingly prominent issue following the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Graham’s intervention could prove a problem as Republicans fight to take back the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Political experts told Newsweek that Graham’s proposal was a “blunder” that would play into Democrats’ hands, but it may not prove decisive in crucial midterm races.
A Gift to Democrats
Graham’s proposed nationwide abortion law has been heavily criticized, with longtime Republican lobbyist Roger Stone accusing the senator of “wilful sabotage” of the party’s midterm chances.
“Lindsey Graham’s proposed abortion law is a huge gift politically to Democrats heading into the 2022 midterms,” said Thomas Gift, founding director of University College London’s Centre on U.S. Politics.
Gift told Newsweek: “The bill would never pass Congress, and in the meantime, gives Democrats two things that [they] covet most right now: one, to distract from inflation as the top issue facing voters; and two, to depict Republicans as outside the mainstream.”
“Although a national abortion ban certainly has its share of cheerleaders within the GOP, Republicans laser-focused on winning in November can’t be too pleased with either the timing or substance of Graham’s proposal,” he said.
Gift added that if Republicans “underperform” in November, “party leaders will look back at moves like this one as one of a series of unforced errors that turned the tide against them.”
On the Defensive
The proposed 15-week ban may have placed Republicans in a more difficult position at a time when they are already coping with the fallout from Dobbs, according to David A. Bateman, an associate professor of government at Cornell University.
“Republicans were already on the defensive on abortion, because of the extremism of conservative activists and a Supreme Court that has empowered and emboldened them,” Bateman told Newsweek.
“Graham’s attempted resolution of internal party dilemmas was ham-handed and likely made things more difficult for many incumbents and challengers. But the problem was already there: Republican positions are unpopular, but they can’t duck the issue,” he said.
However, Bateman said that Graham’s “antics” weren’t “likely to play a very large role in the midterm elections,” and he doubted it would “substantially alter the playing field.”
Paul Quirk, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia, told Newsweek that Graham’s proposal “turns up the intensity dial on an issue that has been hurting Republicans.”
“It undermines their efforts to portray their position as defending states’ rights. This may have only marginal effects for voters in states that are already adopting more severe restrictions,” Quirk said.
A Threat to Abortion
Quirk said that the proposed ban “makes Republicans a far more serious, more direct threat to abortion rights in all the other states—the blue or purple states that account for the bulk of the country’s population.”
“Pro-abortion Republicans, including many middle-class women, will have compelling reasons to defect to the Democrats in places like upstate New York, the Chicago suburbs, or any competitive state. We will see a lot of Democratic advertising featuring Graham and his bill,” he said.
“At some point, a proposal like Graham’s could emerge as the basis for a national compromise on abortion,” Quirk continued. “At this stage, however, neither the pro-life nor the pro-choice side is ready to give up hope for total victory, and in fact both have some chance of gaining such victory in the highly uncertain, near future.”
Mark Shanahan, an associate professor at the University of Surrey in the U.K. and co-editor of The Trump Presidency: From Campaign Trail to World Stage, told Newsweek that Graham was “tying himself in knots to try and keep ahead of the massive abortion sinkhole.”
“On the face of it, Graham’s decision to introduce a bill to the Senate to introduce a national ban on all abortions at 15 weeks other than in cases of rape, incest and to protect the mother’s life may seem a sensible move to win over family-first Democrats and right-leaning women voters,” Shanahan said.
“But all it has done is exposed his hypocrisy,” he said, pointing to the fact that Graham had previously said he believed abortion laws were a matter for the states.
“Voters may wonder now exactly what Graham believes, or even if he has any beliefs at all around reproductive rights,” Shanahan said. “Does abortion matter—as it does so strongly on both sides of the debate, or is it just another political tool wielded to win votes?”
“At best, Graham has muddied the waters, but conceivably he could have swayed many floating voters away from an increasingly expedient and sometimes desperate GOP,” he added.
Newsweek reached out to Graham’s office for comment.