Lindsey Graham's attempt at a national abortion ban could help GOP in midterms. What we know about the bill

Democrats control the Senate and are unlikely to bring this legislation to a floor vote. But Sen. Lindsey Graham said this bill could give the GOP a counterargument on abortion in their midterm runs.

WASHINGTON – Sen. Lindsey Graham is introducing a national abortion ban that would prohibit the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy and provide a Republican response to a politically charged issue that could be galvanizing for Democrats this fall.

  • Timing: Graham is introducing the bill eight weeks before midterm elections that will decide which party controls Congress.
  • What's in the bill: Graham's bill, the "Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions Act," would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy and include exceptions for rape, incest and the health of the mother. Republican women and independents who have sided with Democrats on abortion have said they didn't like bills or laws that didn't include exceptions. His bill also includes criminal penalties for doctors who perform abortions, including up to five years in prison..
  • What he's saying: "I see this as a responsible alternative to the very radical position by Democratic senators," Graham said Tuesday morning on Fox News Digital. "I can assure that a vast majority of Americans do not support abortion on demand up to delivery."
  • The message: Democrats control the Senate and are unlikely to bring this legislation to a floor vote. But Graham said this bill could give Republicans a counterargument on abortion in their midterm runs. 

A deeper look:Channeling abortion outrage, Democratic women push for upsets in Senate elections

Why 15 weeks?

In a Capitol Hill news conference Tuesday, the South Carolina Republican said the 15-week timeframe is in line with scientific data on when fetuses start feeling pain. 

"If you have to provide anesthesia to keep the baby from feeling pain to help save its life, should we as a nation be aborting babies that can feel excruciating pain from an abortion?" he said.

But the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says "the science conclusively establishes that a human fetus does not have the capacity to experience pain until after at least 24–25 weeks."

How could this help Republicans?

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has introduced a national abortion ban that would prohibit the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy. In this file photo, he speaks to reporters as he walks to a luncheon with Senate Republicans at the U.S. Capitol building on September 07, 2022 in Washington, D.C.

Graham said his bill is in line with other countries and could help Republicans running in the midterms. 

GOP Senate candidates have been mostly quiet on the campaign trail about the abortion issue, especially in those battleground states where polling shows them behind their Democratic opponents or in neck-and-neck races. 

"This bill puts us in line with the rest of the world, so when you're on the campaign trail, you have a chance to talk about what you're for," he told Fox News Digital. 

How could this help Democrats? 

Anti-abortion protesters gather outside the Supreme Court on June 24, 2022.

Graham's bill is keeping abortion at the forefront of midterm issues driving voters to the polls and drawing sharp contrasts between Republicans and Democrats. 

Polling has shown voters are most concerned about inflation and the economy, but abortion is among the most motivating issues driving Democrats to the ballot box. 

Multiple polls have shown a majority of voters support legal abortion with few restrictions, which is in line with most Democrats. A Pew Research Poll in June showed 6 in 10 Americans said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, regardless of the stage of pregnancy. 

On the campaign trail:At rally for Dem Senate candidate in Pennsylvania - and beyond - abortion takes center stage

What about states' rights? 

Graham's proposal for a nationwide ban is a sharp turn from his position last month that states should decide the issue of abortion. 

His bill to give federal lawmakers the power to decide the issue is at odds with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who on Tuesday afternoon said most in the GOP conference still believe it should be decided at the state level. 

When he was asked during his news conference Tuesday about Republicans who still believe it should be left to the states, Graham said, "That's great. That's their position. That's a sound position. That's not my position."

Reaction

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Graham's bill would strip away women's rights in all 50 states.

"This bill is wildly out of step with what Americans believe," she said in a statement. 

Jean-Pierre drew a contrast between President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and congressional Democrats who are working to restore protections in Roe v. Wade, and Republicans in Congress who "are focused on taking rights away from millions of women." 

She reiterated those points during a White House briefing Tuesday afternoon.

"It is an extreme piece of legislation, and it is in line, from what we are seeing from Republicans on these extreme agendas that is not in line – that is not in line – with the majority of Americans," Jean-Pierre said.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesperson Nora Keefe echoed that message. 

“Senate Republicans are showing voters exactly what they would do if they are in charge: pass a nationwide abortion ban and strip away women’s right to make our own health care decisions," she said in a statement. 

But  Graham's bill is drawing support from anti-abortion leaders, such as March for Life President Jeanne Mancini.

“Limiting abortions after 15 weeks is the least we can do to protect women, as well as babies who at this stage are already fully formed in their mother’s womb and can feel pain," she said in a statement.

Maureen Ferguson, a senior fellow for The Catholic Association, said in a statement that the limits on abortion in Graham's bill "are humane and common sense."  

"We applaud Sen. Graham’s efforts to seek consensus in a post-Roe world and to protect as many babies and women as possible from the harms of abortion," she said.

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Contributing: Francesca Chambers and Dylan Wells

Candy Woodall is a Congress reporter for USA TODAY. She can be reached at cwoodall@usatoday.com or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.