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Tony Perkins / September 29, 2022

Planting a Flag: GOP Proposes 15-Week Abortion Law

The Supreme Court opened the door to lasting pro-life change in this country. Now is the time to start walking through it.

As furious as Democrats are about the end of Roe v. Wade, they certainly can’t complain about the timing. Months away from a midterm bloodbath, the Supreme Court’s decision was — in many ways — a political gift. While the issue of abortion may not have the power to upend the November elections, it’s certainly given the president’s party something to talk about other than his monumental failures. And talk they have — about everything but their radical position of abortion until birth.

For conservatives, who’d prayed and worked for this moment for 49 years, the weeks after Dobbs were confusing ones. While America weathered protests, mob violence, and corporate pushback, Republicans struggled to get their bearings. Democrats were happy to fill the void, pivoting from Joe Biden’s historic unpopularity to more familiar ground: framing the GOP as a bunch of anti-woman extremists. 

The legacy media piled on, pouncing on the narrative that Republicans were running scared from their pro-life platform — unable to unify around a meaningful post-Roe strategy. And to some extent that was true. After a half-century of working toward this moment, some conservatives seemed truly uncertain what to do with it. But as the press fanned the flames of cracks in the Republican façade, the real story isn’t so much what the GOP can’t agree on, but what the Democrats do: unlimited abortion on demand through all nine months of pregnancy, up to (or after) birth.

While conservatives debate next steps, remember: in the president’s party, there is no debate. While the Left calls Republicans “radical” for trying to limit abortion at 15 weeks, the market on extremism has already been cornered by the party who sees no reason to protect innocent human life at any stage, even after birth. The Democrats’ so-called Women’s Health Protection Act — which has already passed the House twice — would wipe out every state level restriction on abortion — including commonsense laws on ultrasounds, parental consent, clinic regulations, hospital admitting privileges, taxpayer funding, conscience rights, and every other conceivable limit.

“You [can] be going to the delivery [room and have an abortion],” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) insisted on “Washington Watch” last week. So why isn’t the national media talking about that? “Because … [t]hey don’t want to expose the Democratic Party’s position. … Because if most Americans understood what they’re trying to do nationally, it would hurt them. Everybody thinks abortion is a great issue for the Democrats. Not if you know what they want to do. They want to make the law of the land — the national standard — abortion on demand up to the moment of birth with no restrictions.” And force you and me to pay for it.

Senator Graham, knowing the Democratic position is light years more radical than Roe, decided to propose a contrast: a national, 15-week limit for abortion. It was time, he believed, to play offense — to give the Republican Party a starting point for change and force Democrats to publicly defend their opposition. After all, 15 weeks is at the upper limits of public opinion, surveys show. A whopping 65% of Americans would be perfectly happy outlawing abortion at 12 weeks, after the first trimester — or, as some polling suggests, even earlier

It was never Graham’s intent to end the debate here. He understands, as we do, that building a culture of life is a work in progress, just as it has been for the last half-century. In all honesty, Americans wouldn’t be in the post-Roe world today had we not pursued and accepted incremental gains. And while a 15-week protection “falls painfully short” to most pro-lifers, as Rich Lowry points out, “[i]t would be in keeping with the trajectory of successful past campaigns of moral and social reform.” They are the ones that “settle for progress in the right direction, occupy politically defensible ground, and then advance over time.” In this case, Lowry argues, Republicans need to “find an incrementalist position on abortion where it can plant its flag, and then focus its fire on the vulnerabilities of the other side.”

That’s not to say our movement should abandon its principles. Every pro-lifer and Republican leader should continue to offer a full-throated defense of life at the point of conception, as I have since before I entered public office. But we also need to adjust to the reality of the situation, which is that conservatives need to build a national consensus — whether that’s at 15 weeks, 12 weeks, or six. Right now, Graham’s bill is the only show in town. If Senate Republicans have a problem with his threshold, then by all means — introduce a heartbeat bill or protections at conception and let’s debate it. Until then, this is the legislative vehicle that is being advanced. And while a 15-week law might be imperfect, it’s certainly better than allowing California, New York, and Illinois to kill healthy babies on their birth days. 

Americans tend to agree. When both options are put before the people — the Democrats’ Women’s Health Protection Act and Graham’s 15-week proposal — it’s no contest. The bill that would bring our country more in line with the civilized world wins out handily, 59% to 41%. Remember, Graham pointed out, “The Democratic position is abortion on demand up to the moment of birth — like China and North Korea.” Even Europe, which the Left idolizes for its social liberalism, is generally more protective of the unborn than 15 weeks. So for anyone — let alone the White House — to suggest that capping abortion three weeks into the second trimester somehow makes America “wildly out of step” is flat-out lying. If anything, 15 weeks is the bare minimum Congress could do. 

Yet even this is an important distinction to draw with the Democratic Party, which has no lines, no limits, and no apologies. If nothing else, “Graham’s proposal is a tool in this fight, and the broader battle for public opinion,” Lowry argues. “If his bill ever gets to a floor vote, it could force Senate Democrats to declare themselves against a late-term abortion ban that will strike much of the public as reasonable, and then allow Republican Senate candidates to use that vote to portray their Democratic opponents as extremists.”

And, as Graham pointed out, nothing in his Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions Act stops leaders in places like South Carolina, South Dakota, North Dakota, or other areas from enacting more restrictive laws on abortion. “It allows states to do what they would choose to do. But at 15 weeks, we want to draw a line for America.”

Republicans may not want to fight this battle now, but the fight is here nonetheless. It’s time for people across the conservative movement to link arms and march forward, understanding that this is the beginning of a national conversation — not the end. “We won a great victory by overturning Roe,” Graham said. “…The worst outcome for the pro-life movement in America is for the Republican Party to surrender [on this issue].”

The Supreme Court opened the door to lasting pro-life change in this country. Now is the time to start walking through it.


This is a publication of the Family Research Council. Mr. Perkins is president of FRC and executive editor of The Washington Stand.

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