WASHINGTON—The battle over abortion is coming back to the U.S. Senate despite those who say Republicans should steer clear of social issues. And a lawmaker who is facing heat from Tea Party groups for not being conservative enough is leading the charge.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., introduced landmark legislation on Thursday to federally outlaw abortions performed after 20 weeks into a pregnancy. The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act bans abortion after six months unless it is necessary to save the life of the mother or in cases of rape and incest. Violators would face up to five years in prison.
“If we can convince the American people to prevent abortions at the 20th week nothing bad is going to happen,” Graham said, anticipating the coming attacks on the bill by the pro-abortion lobby. “Good things will happen. Babies will be born that would not have made it otherwise. And only God knows who they will grow up to be.”
Graham, who called unborn children the most defenseless people in society, argued that already more Americans are coming around to supporting bans on abortions after 20 weeks.
Polls back the senator’s assertion that a majority of the nation believes the unborn should be treated humanely: 64 percent of Americans say abortions should not be permitted in the second trimester of a pregnancy. A similar percentage of women, 63 percent, support banning abortions when an unborn child can feel pain.
Graham said the dwindling support for late-term abortions could be traced to advances in medical research and technology that provides compelling evidence of how developed a baby is at 20 weeks.
At that stage doctors can perform surgery on an unborn baby. The fact that a baby can feel pain is so established in the medical community that anesthesia is administered directly to the child during fetal surgery. Graham called what we know about the child at 20-weeks “heartwarming.”
An unborn child at that point has a beating heart, a nervous system in working order, and all of his or her organs. The child has eyelashes and eyebrows. The child can hear and respond to another voice. The child, according to WebMD, can yawn, stretch, get hiccups, and make facial expressions. The child’s taste buds can distinguish between sweet and bitter. The child is sensitive to bright lights and covers his or her ears with hands if a loud sound is made nearby.
“We are talking about a baby that science and medicine is urging the parents to talk to because they can hear you,” Graham said. “The question for us is should we remain silent as a society? Or should we speak on behalf of these babies? My answer is yes.”
Graham argued that unborn babies deserve the government’s legal protections under the theory that “if you can feel pain the government should protect you from being destroyed by an abortion.” There are cases, Graham pointed out, of babies born at 20-weeks who have survived into adulthood, living healthy and productive lives.
Yet research shows that 15,000 unborn children are aborted each year at 20 weeks into a pregnancy with the vast majority of those being the victim of purely elective abortions performed on healthy mothers and healthy babies.
“This is perhaps the largest human rights issue of our time,” said Penny Nance, the president of Concerned Women for America, who joined Graham during the unveiling of the bill.
A version of this legislation passed the House in July by a vote of 228 to 196. Graham’s bill so far has 34 cosponsors in the Senate. He said he will insist on a vote on this bill in 2014 but admits its supporters likely will fall short of the votes needed for passage. But Graham believes it is time to start having this debate on Capitol Hill. He predicts that over time support for the effort will rise, as more of the public understands what the legislation does to protect unborn infants who can feel pain.
Graham likened the upcoming fight to past federal battles over banning partial-birth abortion and over ensuring that criminals who attack pregnant women are also charged with a crime for the damage done to the unborn child. The American public eventually rallied around both ideas. It took about a decade to get the partial-birth abortion ban passed. But during that long, challenging process Americans came to embrace the wisdom of restricting abortion during the last trimester in the development of a child. Graham believes this time that support will come at a faster pace thanks largely to technology.
But every group that tried to attack the partial-birth abortion ban also will fight against this 20-week ban, arguing again that it will destroy a woman’s “right to choose.” Pro-abortion advocates already have sent out fundraising emails this week saying Graham and his “anti-woman GOP buddies” are gearing up to produce a bill that would prevent abortion after “just” 20 weeks.
To counteract this anti-woman attack, six women, each representing a different pro-life organization, flanked Graham during his announcement.
“We certainly aren’t anti-woman,” said Carol Tobias, the president of National Right to Life. “We are real women protecting very well-developed unborn children, half of whom are women.”
This likely will be a key issue in both the 2014 and 2016 elections. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, believes this bill marks one of the biggest crossroads in the abortion fight since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion in 1973.
“This is an historic moment,” she said. “It won’t be easy, but it certainly will not be impossible. Real lives will be saved and real women will be protected.’”
At the close of Thursday’s event, Graham dismissed allegations he was introducing this bill because he is facing a GOP primary threat in South Carolina for his own 2014 reelection bid.
“I came into the political arena pro-life, and I will leave pro-life,” he said. “I am honored to do this. This is important to me.”