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The GOP’s abortion split

Wake Up To Politics: The GOP abortion split
The GOP’s abortion split

by Gabe Fleisher

Good morning! It’s Wednesday, September 14, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 55 days away. Election Day 2024 is 783 days away.

This morning I’m leading off with a look at the GOP reaction to Sen. Lindsey Graham’s new abortion bill, and what it suggests about abortion politics ahead of the midterms.

You’ll also find important statistics pepper throughout, to make sure you have the hard numbers on things like how abortion is polling, what exactly a “late-term abortion” is, and when in a pregnancy most abortions take place.

Also: If you want to hear more from me on the 2022 elections and the broader political landscape, I really enjoyed talking to my friend Niles Francis, a fellow young political journalist, for his podcast. You can listen here. And make sure to check out his newsletter, Peach State Politics, for all your Georgia politics needs.

The GOP’s abortion split

For decades, overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court precedent protecting abortion rights, was a key plank on the Republican platform. It was a focus of the entire party: from grassroots pro-life advocates to presidents and senators who toiled to place pro-life judges on the federal bunch.

In June, when it actually happened, there was a fair amount of attention paid to the Biden administration’s seeming lack of preparedness for the Supreme Court decision, as Democrats beseeched the president to make a more forceful response.

But in the months since, it has become clear just how unprepared Republicans were as well for their long-sought abortion ruling, as the party has scrambled to find a unified message on a pro-life stance that appears increasingly to be a political loser. On abortion, they are, as many news outlets have put it, “the dog that caught the car.”

That divide was on stark display onTuesday when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced what he called the “Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions Act,” a bill banning abortions nationwide after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Graham’s measure includes exceptions for “situations involving rape, incest, or risks to the life and physical health of the mother.”  

To quickly address the measure’s name: “Late-term abortion” is not a medical term, but it has historically been used to refer to those that take place towards the end of the second trimester, at around 21 to 24 weeks of pregnancy.

In addition, although there is some scientific dispute depending on how you define “pain,” most experts — including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists — agree that fetuses are not capable of feeling pain until the third trimester, which begins at around 27 weeks of pregnancy.

It is true, though, that most abortions already take place before the limit Graham’s bill would set: 92.7% of U.S. abortions in 2019 were performed at 13 weeks or earlier, according to the CDC.

Graham’s measure was met with crickets from the rest of the Senate GOP. “I think most members of my conference prefer that this be dealt with at the state level,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told reporters. (Even Graham, it should be noted, held this stance just four months ago.)

Other Republican lawmakers made clear their preference to talk about anything else: “I, for one, want to focus on the inflation numbers that came out today,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) said. “The imminent potential strike with railway workers. That’s what people are talking about.”

Indeed, noting that Graham’s announcement took place on the same day as the worse-than-expected August inflation report was unveiled, one Democratic official joked to Politico that their party “might need to send gift baskets and champagne” to the South Carolina senator.

The silence from otherRepublicans was a recognition of the overwhelming evidence that abortion politics are shifting in light of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade.

Graham repeatedly pointed out Tuesday that a 15-week abortion limit is on par or laxer than the laws in much of Europe — which is broadly true, although many European countries have more expansive exceptions based on a woman’s economic or mental health status. But here in the U.S., 15-week bans seem to have plummeted in popularity since Dobbs.

In April, before the Supreme Court ruling, a Wall Street Journal poll found that 48% of American voters supported a 15-week abortion ban and 43% opposed it. But earlier this month, once such bans become a reality in some states, a new Wall Street Journal poll uncovered very different results: just 30% of voters now support a 15-week ban, while 57% oppose it.

And that shift has made a clear dent in GOP support heading into the midterms, as evidenced by Democratic gains in generic ballot polling, the surge in women registering to vote and saying they plan to vote for Democrats, the resounding defeat of a pro-life ballot measure in Kansas, and the Democratic overperformance in special elections since Dobbs.

Which is why Graham’s bill become immediate campaign trail fodder as soon as it was announced. Pennsylvania Democrat John Fetterman’s Senate campaign quickly blasted out a demand that Republican rival Mehmet Oz take a position on the bill. A spokesperson for Oz didn’t answer directly, but expressed a preference for states taking a lead on the issue.

Just like their incumbent counterparts, Republican Senate candidates in battleground contests chose varying responses — again suggesting a lack of GOP unity now that the party has succeeded in taking down Roe.

As the Washington Post notes, “Herschel Walker in Georgia and Blake Masters in Arizona said they would support the legislation, while Joe O’Dea in Colorado and Tiffany Smiley in Washington said they would not.”

Two more things I want to note:

  1. As this longer-term debate plays out on the federal level, states are continuing to make changes to abortion laws with immediate consequences. Just on Tuesday, West Virginia’s Republican-controlled legislature passed a near-total abortion ban, making it the second state to do so since Dobbs. The first state, Indiana, will see its ban go into effect Thursday.
  2. Back in July, I wrote that most congressional leaders were now “leaders from behind” — noting that they were increasingly being driven by their rank-and-file, not the other way around. Graham’s proposal is the second time in recent months a GOP senator has unveiled a high-profile policy despite McConnell’s opposition, the first being Florida Sen. Rick Scott’s controversial platform. Both Graham and Scott’s proposals have become major selling points for Democrats, underlining the political dangers of McConnell’s inability to rein in his own members.
A new bill by Sen. Lindsey Graham threw the GOP into disarray. (Gage Skidmore)

What else you should know

Primary results: The farther-right candidatesare leading in all three of the key New Hampshire GOP primaries from last night. Election-denying retired Army brigadier general Don Bolduc is ahead in the Senate primary, while 25-year-old Trump alum Karoline Leavitt and conservative businessman Robert Burns are leading in the House primaries.

If all three end up winning (as is expected), they each will have beaten rivals backed by the national party leadership — and given hope to vulnerable Democratic incumbents who were rooting for the chance to run against them (and meddled on their behalf).

  • Meanwhile, progressives largely sputtered in Rhode Island, where a Bernie Sanders-endorsed primary challenger to Democratic Gov. Dan McKee came in a distant fourth place and a left-wing slate of state legislative candidates mostly lost. The primary results showed a fascinating mismatch between who is dominant in the two party bases, as the farthest-right candidates marched to victory in the GOP but Democrats opted against their farthest-left options.

RIP: “Ken Starr, a former federal appellate judge and a prominent attorney whose criminal investigation of Bill Clinton led to the president’s impeachment and put Starr at the center of one of the country’s most polarizing debates of the 1990s, has died at age 76, his family said Tuesday.” Keep reading via the Associate Press

Recommended reading: Three journalistic projects dropped from different newsrooms on Tuesday that I thought shined interesting lights on different aspects of the U.S. Congress. Here they are if you’re interested:

  • Stock Trades Reported by Nearly a Fifth of Congress Show Possible Conflicts” (New York Times)
  • “How Lawmakers Are ‘Quiet Quitting’ Congress” (Daily Beast)
  • “The oldest government in history” (Insider)
Karoline Leavitt could become one of the first Gen Z members of Congress. (Twitter)

Today at a glance

All times Eastern. Click on an event’s time to watch it.

President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing (8:30 am) and then travel to Detroit, Michigan. He’ll tour the Detroit Auto Show (11:15 am), deliver remarks there on electric vehicle manufacturing (1:45 pm), and then participate in a Democratic National Committee fundraiser (3:10 pm). Afterward, he’ll return to Washington.

Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Buffalo, New York. She’ll tour the GROW Clean Energy Center at the University at Buffalo (12:15 pm) and then deliver remarks there on the Inflation Reduction Act’s climate provisions (2 pm). Then, she’ll return to Washington.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will hold a press gaggle aboard Air Force One during the flight to Detroit.

The Senate will convene (10 am) and hold two votes on judicial nominations (11:30 am): confirming Laura Montecalvo as a U.S. Circuit Judge for the First Circuit and advancing Sarah Merriam’s nomination to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Second Circuit.

The House will convene (10 am) and consider 15 pieces of legislation, including bills to protect the census from political interference, expand protections for federal whistleblowers, modernize the process for medical procedures to be authorized under Medicare, and initiate a national aviation preparedness plan for disease outbreaks.

Congressional committees will hold hearings on “social media’s impact on homeland security” (10 am), with current and former Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, and YouTube executives, and “stopping the spread of monkeypox,” with the CDC and FDA chiefs and Dr. Fauci (10 am).

  • Some of the day’s other hearing topics: “Congressional modernization” (10 am); “right to repair and what it means for entrepreneurs” (10 am); “removing barriers to organizing” (10:15 am); and “protecting Americans’ private information from hostile foreign powers” (4 pm).

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will hold her weekly press conference (12 pm).

The Supreme Court is out until September 28.

Before I go...

Here’s some good news: Scientists from MIT have developed an artificial intelligence system that can help with early detection of Parkinson’s disease by analyzing how someone breathes while they sleep.

Here’s more from the Washington Post.

At least, it *could* be good news, depending on exactly how comfortable you are with scientific advances via AI.

On that topic, I also found this recent New York Times column — “We Need to Talk About How Good AI Is Getting” — interesting, and helpful in thinking through how to feel about news stories like the one above.

That’s it for today. If you enjoy Wake Up To Politics, it’s always appreciated if you donate to support the newsletter or buy some merch. Or if you tell your friends and family to sign up at wakeuptopolitics.com.

If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to email me: my inbox is always open.

Thanks for waking up to politics! Have a great day.

— Gabe