Lindsey Graham and Republicans’ Effort to Redefine “End of Term”


An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Senator Steve Daines as a member of the House of Representatives. This version has been corrected.

The new 15-week nationwide abortion ban proposed by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (RS.C.) doesn’t seem to be going anywhere yet. Not given that the Republicans – including Graham — recently defended the Supreme Court’s overturning Roe vs. Wade by espousing the value of letting states define their own policies. And not given that Republican leaders already had plenty to worry about the election fallout from the move.

But Graham’s bill crystallizes a political momentum: it represents the latest salvo in a growing effort to redefine what constitutes “late” abortion.

Graham avoids explicitly claiming that anything after 15 weeks is by definition “late,” but has certainly made a move in that direction.

The bill is titled “The Protection of Unborn Children Capable of Pain from Late Abortions Act”. A version he presented at previous congresses, banning abortion after 20 weeks, was titled “Law for the Protection of the Unborn Child Capable of Suffering”. He added the “end of term” part to the title, even as he moves the window earlier.

Graham’s office added in a press release: “Graham noted that more than 55,000 abortions at 15 weeks’ gestation or later occur each year in the United States, and the most recent data at the State show that the majority of late abortions are performed for elective reasons. the reasons.”

Graham is not saying that all abortions at or after this point are “late,” but that is certainly the impression such language leaves.

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), one of the few Republicans to publicly support Graham’s bill so far, added, “I am proud to co-sponsor Sen. Lindsey Graham’s bill to put end to pain late abortions after 15 weeks.”

To be clear, there is no precise definition of a late-term abortion, and many medical professionals and scientists reject the term because they believe it is misleading. The very presence of the phrase in speech is considered loaded, pseudoscientific, and even erroneous when applied so early, given that a term is usually around 40 weeks. And very few abortions are performed beyond 20 weeks (the usual window for those who use the term “late”), relatively speaking – around 1% – many of these are due to fetal abnormalities, health risks to the pregnant person or difficulty accessing the procedure earlier.

The reason for this focus is obvious. The issue of abortion now clashes with the GOP, as its lawmakers have moved to severely restrict and, in some cases, outright ban the practice. And the party has increasingly focused on a potential rebuttal: the Democrats and their alleged support for “late abortions.” (Democrats often avoid defining precisely when they think abortion should be illegal, noting that abortions later in pregnancy are very rare.)

For years, opponents of abortion rights have generally linked “late abortions” to delays of 20 weeks or more. But as some states have imposed 15-week bans – the time frame under Mississippi law to cancel deer – Susan B. Anthony List has used this threshold on several occasions this year in her advocacy around “late” and “late” abortions.

As with Graham, these statements do not directly say that any proceedings beyond 15 weeks are overdue. Graham announced the bill on Tuesday with the band’s leader at his side.

Other Republicans facing voters in the 2022 election have also moved in this direction, as they have sought to distance themselves from past commentary on the issue and focus on Democrats.

Arizona GOP Senate candidate Blake Masters compared abortion to “genocide” earlier in the 2022 campaign. But he now says Arizona’s abortion ban after 15 weeks is a “reasonable solution”, and in a new advertisement says that he supports a “ban on very late abortion”.

New Mexico gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti — who once called himself “strongly pro-life” but has since dropped “strongly” — has more directly linked the two. In a recent ad, he says, “We can end late-term abortion, while protecting access to contraception and health care. Just as he says these words, the screen reads: “Limit abortion to the first 15 weeks”.

For now, it mostly seems like Republicans and their allies don’t want to talk about federal abortion laws — even in the terms Graham is pushing. But sometimes invoices are presented more as messaging exercises than anything else. With Republicans powerless to stop many of their allies from pursuing sweeping state-level bans, it’s obvious that there’s an advantage in trying to force Democrats to specify which abortions they would ban, to focus on exceptions that Republicans would allow.

And with states like Virginia and Florida specifically considering or enacting 15-week bans, it’s obvious there’s merit in trying to redefine what those 15-week bans really mean — or just pushing party towards something you think might be an easier sell.

Even if it means rewriting the definition of a word you defined in the first place.

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