“If we take back the House and the Senate, I can assure you we’ll have a vote on our bill,” said Republican US Sen. Lindsey Graham. “If the Democrats are in charge, I don’t know if we’ll ever have a vote on our bill.”
WASHINGTON DC—Recently proposed legislation makes clear that Republican lawmakers—including those from Michigan—would curtail reproductive freedoms if they take control of Congress.
And for voters, that means the future of abortion care will be decided at the polls in November.
This week, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina (and more than 80 other House Republicans in Washington, including several from Michigan) 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 permitted under state law.
In Michigan, abortion care remains legal, and a judge recently declared a 1931 law that had banned abortions in all cases (except to save the life of the mother) to be unconstitutional. But the issue is expected to face more legal challenges as litigation inches closer to the Michigan Supreme Court.
Additionally, Michiganders in November will be able to decide on a ballot proposal that would cement reproductive freedoms into the state Constitution—though the federal legislation makes clear that Republicans would continue to rail against those protections if they capture power in Congress in November.
What’s this new legislation all about?
The newly introduced bill, at least in its current form, is almost certainly destined to fail under Democratic leadership in Congress. Still, it serves as a symbol: It could surface again next year under different political leadership, and Republicans would still attempt to restrict abortion care across the nation.
“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, leaving out the fact that his bill would still force 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. Among the co-sponsors: Michigan Reps. John Moolenaar (R-Midland), Tim Walberg (R-Tipton), Lisa McClain (R-Bruce Twp.), Jack Bergman (R-Watersmeet), and Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland).
The legislative package 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 a national ban is certainly on their agenda.
“If we take back the House and the Senate, I can assure you we’ll have a vote on our bill,” Graham said. “If the Democrats are in charge, I don’t know if we’ll ever have a vote on our bill.”
What’s at stake in November?
Two more Democratic senators in Congress next year would shift control in the US Senate and all but eliminate the possibility of the nationwide ban resurfacing. Inversely, a more stringent anti-abortion agenda could arrive in DC should Republicans manage to reel in more seats in the November midterms.
In Michigan, Democrats may also get a chance to take the lead. For the first time since 1983, both chambers of the state Legislature could shift Democratic, with the flip of seven total seats.
Long story, short: Reproductive freedoms are tied to races up and down the ballot in November.
“Make no mistake: in Michigan, we will never stop fighting for reproductive freedom together,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently tweeted—continuing to draw a contrast between her campaign and that of her Republican opponent, Tudor Dixon, who’d rather see abortion banned without exception.
The Biden administration also recently blasted the proposed ban, and reiterated the president’s continued 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.”
What do the people think?
Michiganders also support reproductive freedoms. A January poll found that 56% of Michigan residents identified as “pro-choice” while 34% identified as “pro-life.” Another poll found most Americans strongly opposed overturning Roe v. Wade.
Results of a poll published in September by The Detroit News and WDIV-TV showed abortion and women’s rights was the top issue motivating Michigan residents to vote in November, ahead of inflation and cost of living, education, and the economy and jobs. The poll also showed a majority of likely voters will support the proposed constitutional amendment in November.
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.
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 case 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.
Even though the vast majority of rapes go unreported, 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 that “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.