It is impossible to listen to Lindsey Graham’s new abortion ban proposal without being overcome by the hypocrisy of it all. On Tuesday, the senator proposed a nationwide ban on abortions after 15 weeks of gestation, with only a handful of exceptions. Graham has spent his entire political career saying abortion should be left up to the states. Now, at the very first opportunity to do so after the Supreme Court’s revocation of abortion rights, he’s proposing a bill that will override state laws and impose abortion restrictions at a national level.
Like a foul odor from some rotting beast, the stench of Graham’s hypocrisy makes you retch, but the smell is not what kills you. Graham calls his bill a “late-term abortion ban,” but that is a lie on two levels. First, “late-term abortion” is a phrase invented by forced birthers to demonize pregnant people who want to have their babies but can’t because of some life-threatening complication. To the forced-birth fundamentalists, the mother’s life is expendable. But to decent people, abortions near the end of gestation are gut-wrenching choices that can be made only by the pregnant person whose life is on the line, in consultation with their doctors, and their families.
Second, and no less important, there is no universe in which a 15-week ban can be called “late-term,” even for dudes like Graham who think conception is what happens when a daddy really loves a mommy and buys her a drink. Human pregnancy is 40 weeks long. Calling 15 weeks “late-term” is like calling a baseball game “almost over” in the bottom of the third inning.
Graham’s bill would be awful if it became law, but it will not become law. It’s not even designed to become law. Everybody knows that Democrats will not vote for this nonsense (give or take Joe Manchin and whatever the drug companies tell Kyrsten Sinema to do). More to the point, this bill is never going to be law because, if Republicans get the political power to impose a national abortion ban, that ban will be far worse than what Graham is proposing.
I know this because I have the mental power to remember what conservatives actually do, instead of constantly being bamboozled by what they say. Consider the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health: At issue in that case was a 15-week abortion ban that was not all that different from Graham’s proposal, but it applied only to Mississippi. The theocrats on the Supreme Court had the opportunity simply to endorse that 15-week ban, but that option did not satisfy them. So instead they overturned Roe v. Wade completely and opened the floodgates to allow any state to pass wholesale bans on abortion. Many red states have done just that, while others have come up with bans that start a lot earlier than 15 weeks.
Moreover, Graham’s bill contains exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother, which will never fly with the hard-right religious fundamentalists who have abandoned even these basic protections. Instead, they’ve adopted the cockamamie theory that rape is a part of God’s will to bring about new life, a theological construct that ignores a pregnant person’s wishes about what to do with their own body. Again, the conservative Supreme Court had an opportunity to protect abortion rights, at least in these most devastating circumstances, and the extremists refused.
As crazy as it sounds to those who rightly recoil from a national abortion ban, Graham’s bill is a political stunt designed to make the Republican position look more moderate than it is. The possibility that white women voters (the only women voters Republicans care about) will turn against the party because of its extremist abortion bans is real. Republicans don’t actually believe that there should be exceptions for rape or incest, don’t believe the life of the mother has value, and don’t believe that pregnant people should get to control their bodies after conception, but they’re always willing to lie to people about what they want if the lying helps them take power.
To put the finishing touches on this grand ruse, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell stepped in to say that he would not commit to putting Graham’s bill on the floor should Republicans retake the Senate. The charade of McConnell and Graham pretending that they didn’t choreograph their moves is like the cast of West Side Story pretending they just showed up for a dance fight without spending six months in rehearsals. McConnell’s refusal to commit does two things: It allows Republicans running for office in competitive districts to say that a national abortion ban isn’t on the table (which it is) while also allowing Republicans running for office in “semi-fascist” districts to say that the real national abortion ban will be far more draconian than what’s been proposed (which it will be).
The Republican doublespeak would be farcical if it weren’t so dangerous. Beneath the stunts and lies and misinformation campaigns is the very real problem that Republicans will absolutely institute a national abortion ban if they take power. They’re trying to hide how they’ll get there, but the end goal has not changed. They will force states like California and New York to treat women and pregnant people no better than they are treated in Mississippi, while allowing Mississippi to treat women and pregnant people as poorly as they do in Texas.
And the Supreme Court will let them do it. If you think Graham’s hypocrisy is rank, wait till you see how the Supreme Court does it. This court will strike down any national protection of abortion rights should Democrats pass such a bill in 2023 but uphold a national ban on abortions should Republicans pass one in 2025.
McConnell, Graham, and the forced birthers are literally trying to have it both ways, and while that is hypocritical, it’s also desperate. Republicans are trying to deal with the fact that their long-standing political position—that women and pregnant people should be treated as mouthy incubators with only the rights afforded to second-class citizens—is deeply unpopular. They are the dog that finally caught the car, and are struggling to figure out what to do with it. Things will only get worse if they ever do.