Lindsey Graham's new bill is an abortion ban in sheep's clothing

A hateful bill from a hateful little man.

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 05: U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks at a press conference at the U.S....
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Four months ago, Senator Lindsey Graham celebrated the Supreme Court's decision to strike down Roe v. Wade, upending federal protections that allowed pregnant people to seek abortions and sending the decision back down to the states, where restrictive bans on access were being passed. “I think states should decide the issue of marriage and states should decide the issue of abortion,” he told CNN just last month.

So, it’s a little weird that Graham is the author of a new bill that would place federal restrictions on access to abortion. The so-called “Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions Act” (super catchy, Lindsey) would establish a ban on abortion access 15 weeks after conception.

The bill gets off to a pretty miserable start, as it defines any abortion after 15 weeks as “late-term.” For what it’s worth, “late term” isn’t a thing. It’s a political construct and has zero actual medical meaning, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Typically “late term” is used to reference the late stages of the second trimester, around 21-24 weeks, but Graham’s bill shifts the definition all the way up to the middle of the second trimester.

Graham even seems to know this is some slippery political nonsense, since a previous version of this bill set the ban at 20 weeks — closer to the more traditional definition of “late term,” but he shifted it to 15 weeks instead. Just 1.3 percent of abortions occur after 21 weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but nearly one in ten abortions happen after 14 weeks, so the distinction does matter for the people who need the care.

The reason, according to Graham, was “to get America in a position at the federal level I think is fairly consistent with the rest of the world.” The senator is referencing the fact that much of the world allows access to abortion up to around 15 weeks — this varies depending on the country, but this is generally in the same ballpark range.

Except, here’s the difference: many of those laws are providing a minimum level of guaranteed access to abortion care for pregnant people. Graham’s bill is a cap on how much access anyone could ever be allowed. It’s a ceiling set at 15 weeks — with exceptions granted for cases of rape, incest, and imminent health risks — that no state can provide access beyond.

Take California: it allows abortion up until the point a fetus is viable, typically around 24 weeks. It can no longer guarantee that access. It actually has more flexibility currently, post-Roe v. Wade, than it would under Graham’s abortion ban. But a state like Texas can still ban abortion entirely, with no exceptions. There is no guarantee of access, only a guarantee of restriction.

Graham can present the bill as a compromise or as an attempt to bring the U.S. in line with the rest of the world — something he’d almost certainly never advocate for otherwise — but he can’t change what this bill is: a federal abortion ban.