U.S. Senate Republicans Introduce Nationwide Abortion Ban: ‘This Once-Hypothetical Nightmare Is Here’

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U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) at an event about the leaked Supreme Court draft decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on May 3, 2022. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)

On Tuesday, just weeks before the midterm elections, Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham (S. C.) and Chris Smith (N.J.) introduced a nationwide ban on abortion at 15 weeks of pregnancy. The move was a reversal for Graham, who recently said abortion regulation should be left to the individual states. Democratic members of Congress and abortion advocates condemned the proposed legislation.

“For the hard right, this has never been about states’ rights,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on the Senate floor. “No, for MAGA Republicans, this has always been about making abortion illegal everywhere.”

“Anti-abortion rights politicians aren’t hiding the ball: They want to ban abortion nationwide,” said Jenny Lawson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes. “This once-hypothetical nightmare is now here.”

As a result of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade on June 24, 16 states now have abortion bans in effect. An Indiana ban went into effect Thursday, and West Virginia passed an abortion ban on Tuesday. In another nine states, bans are blocked by court order. Abortion is still legal in 22 states, but the proposed national ban would end legal abortion after 15 weeks everywhere, including in states with the strongest abortion rights in the nation such as California, Illinois, New York and Massachusetts.

“This bill shows the true Republican position: They want to ban abortion—for everyone. In every single state. And they want to punish doctors. They want to put them in prison for doing their jobs,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) on the floor of the House on Wednesday. “To anyone who lives in a blue state, like mine—anyone who thinks they are safe from these attacks, here is the painful reality: Republicans are coming for your rights.”

The Republicans’ proposed ban has narrow exceptions for abortion necessary to address “a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury” that endangers the life of the pregnant woman. The bill prohibits abortion for life-endangering psychiatric conditions.

These exceptions delay and sometimes block critically ill women from accessing the medical care they need, putting their health and lives at risk. Recent peer-reviewed research shows that maternal morbidity nearly doubled after abortion bans went into effect in Texas last year. With the threat of losing their medical licenses, facing steep fines and spending decades in prison—and with vague laws written by politicians who know nothing about women’s bodies or the medical intricacies of pregnancy—doctors are hesitant to take any chances and women are suffering.

“Any legislation that tells a person what they can or cannot do with their own bodies, which is not at all based in science or medicine, puts every pregnant person in this country at risk,” said Cecile Richards, former president of Planned Parenthood. “The worst part is, they just don’t care about the harm this extreme legislation would cause.”

They only need one more vote in the Senate to control the majority and bring this bill to the floor.

Jenny Lawson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes
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A group of abortion rights activists march from the U.S. Supreme Court to congressional office buildings on July 6, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

The bill has many false claims and misleading language, starting with the title: “Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions Act.” The phrase “late-term abortion” is stigmatizing language rooted in anti-abortion rhetoric. Fifteen weeks is not “late-term.” It’s three missed periods for someone with a regular cycle.

The claim that a 15-week fetus is capable of experiencing pain is medically inaccurate. “The science conclusively establishes that a human fetus does not have the capacity to experience pain until after at least 24–25 weeks. Every major medical organization that has examined this issue and peer-reviewed studies on the matter have consistently reached the conclusion that abortion before this point does not result in the perception of pain in a fetus,” according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “The best healthcare is provided free of governmental interference in the patient-clinician relationship. Personal decision-making by patients and their healthcare professionals should not be replaced by political ideology.”

Despite the science, the bill has page after page of vague language, made-up medical-sounding terms and inaccurate and inflammatory claims.

“Proposals like the one today send a clear message from MAGA Republicans to women across the country: Your body, our choice,” said Schumer.

In addition to the proposed abortion ban in Congress, earlier this month ‘Catholics for Life’ in Rhode Island filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking the Court to rule that zygotes, embryos and fetuses are “persons” have 14th Amendment due process and equal protection right. This would have the effect of banning abortion and possibility IUDs and hormonal contraception nationwide.

With the threat of a national abortion ban hanging over their heads, abortion rights supporters are mobilizing for the fall elections.

“Who we elect this November will determine our right to an abortion and whether Congress can pass a nationwide abortion ban,” said Lawson, noting how close anti-abortion politicians in the U.S. Senate are to passing a national ban. “They only need one more vote in the Senate to control the majority and bring this bill to the floor.”

Democrats proposed their own law, the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), that would establish the right to abortion nationwide. In July, the U.S. House passed the measure, but then Republican senators filibustered a vote on the bill. Removing the filibuster would require the votes of all 50 Democratic senators, plus Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote, but Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (West Virginia) and Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona) refuse to join the other 48 Democrats in the Senate to make this procedural change.

The future of abortion rights hinges on the November elections. If Democrats can hold the U.S. House and gain two seats in the Senate, they could lift the filibuster and pass WHPA. To do this, the party must maintain its current senators up for re-election and win two more seats. Advocates are focused on races in nine key states: holding seats in Nevada, Arizona, Georgia and New Hampshire, and picking up two seats in the states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Florida.

Public opinion is on the side of abortion rights. Over 60 percent of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances, with higher rates of support among young people, women and people of color. Despite widespread political gerrymandering, voter suppression and intimidation, abortion rights supporters are still hopeful the will of the people will prevail this fall.

“A vast majority of Americans believe that abortion is a private medical decision made between a person and their doctor,” said Richards. “And what is clear is that voters are going to hold them accountable at the ballot box.”

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.

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About

Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.