Is Senator Graham’s Bill to Blame for Midterm results?
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), introduced legislation to the Senate in early September which would create a federal abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Now that the midterm election has passed, the bill formally titled the Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions Act is seen as putting candidates in a position to take a stance on abortion. While they did not come up for a vote in this senate session, and it is unlikely to come up in the 118th congress, it has pushed republicans to say whether or not they support the specifics of Grahm's bill.
Graham’s bill, which would ban most abortions after 15 weeks nationally except in cases of rape, incest, and the life and health of the mother, challenged many Republicans by drawing attention to abortion, therefore injuring the position of moderate Republicans who believe the decision to restrict or expand access to abortion should be left to individual states.
Abortion has became a political flash point for the midterm elections after the Supreme Court’s June 24 decision overturning the protected right to abortion in the case Dobbs v. Jackson, a decision which has left Republicans in disarray as they try to clarify their positions on abortion and appeal to voters in competitive states. Republican difficulties with abortion as a political issue became particularly clear after a Kansas referendum resulted in state preservation of abortion access, with voters choosing to protect the right to abortions in a state which has voted reliably Republican in presidential elections since 1964. Gallup reported record high numbers of Americans now identify as pro-choice, and the New York Times found a surge in women registering to vote after the Supreme Court decision was released.
The high-salience and increased mobilization around abortion have led many Republicans to moderate their campaign messaging surrounding abortion. One stark example reported by AP News is the case of Zach Nunn, the Republican nominee for Iowa’s third congressional district. Nunn previously indicated in primary debates that he believed all abortions should be illegal without exceptions. He later released an op-ed clarifying that he supported exceptions due to rape, incest, and the health of the mother. Additionally, he claimed that Democratic opponents misrepresented the debate question, saying he had been responding to whether or not he personally supported the right to life and not what his policy views were.
But Graham’s bill makes the issue of abortion harder to ignore for Republicans. This is especially true when Democrats have been spending heavily to increase the salience of abortion in the midterm elections to take votes away from Republican candidates, particularly in battleground states. Republicans have heightened their messaging around issues like the economy, crime, and race, attempting to sidestep the issue of abortion, which has become a Democratic-dominated issue for midterm messaging. Graham introduced the bill on the same day as a poor inflation report was released, drawing headlines away from an opportunity for Republicans to chastise the Biden administration and instead turning them once again to abortion.
On top of abortion message moderation and focusing attention on other divisive political issues, many Republicans have also chosen to publicly state that they are not in favor of Graham’s abortion bill because they prefer debates on abortion to be left to individual state legislatures. The GOP Senate nominee from Colorado, Joe O’Dea, called the bill “reckless,” and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told reporters he believed most Republicans would prefer the issue be decided at the state level. Graham stated he had not consulted with the Senate Minority Leader, who has tried to focus GOP midterm messaging around the economy and inflation rather than abortion.
The New York Times reported Republicans have been trying to rally the party around one abortion platform, which Graham may have been trying to proactively accomplish by introducing his bill at such a politically tense moment. Despite the division the bill engendered within the ranks of elected Republicans and Republican candidates, Graham has supported his bill, saying that he believes the entire country will embrace the 15-week abortion ban. A press release featured on the Senator’s official website notes that he worked closely with several pro-life groups in creating the legislation, and 72% of Americans favor limiting abortion after 15 weeks. In the past, Graham even showed some bipartisan support for proposals for a national 20-week abortion ban.
Despite his efforts, Graham’s most recent effort on national abortion legislation has not produced the same results. Post the midterm, republicans remain divided on abortion. Mike Pence, all but confirming a presidential run, remains a supporter of abortion. Trump is credited with getting the justices that ultimately overturned Roe vs. Wade. The question yet to be seen is how will the 2024 republicans position themselves on abortion in light of the midterm election. Will it be a Pence position, a moderate Graham position, or will they pivot away together?