This week, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham introduced a federal law to the U.S. Senate that would ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Republican abortion foes have long framed restricting the procedure as part of an effort to shift power back to the states. Graham’s proposed legislation contradicts that talking point as most of the party has worked to downplay the abortion issue in the run-up to the midterms. Republican Minority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell has distanced himself from Graham’s ban—he told reporters that he felt the move was out of step with the party, which, twist!, believes that the issue should be left to the states.
Still, Graham, who is undoubtedly a Name within the Republican Party, should be taken seriously on this one. In years past, he has consistently pitched a 20-week ban, but this year feels different given the Dobbs ruling. As usual, he has the support of former Vice President Mike Pence, who insisted to RealClearPolitics that Republicans must not “shrink from the fight” and punt on a national abortion ban. Graham also has the support of the Susan B. Anthony List, one of the most powerful anti-abortion PACs in the country. (Their annual gala was held the night after Graham’s announcement. That’s not a coincidence.) Maybe the timing is off, but the day may come when it is not.
The outrage in response to Graham’s ban has felt insignificant compared with the gravity of the moment. Establishment Democrats have hand-waved the attempt as Republican shenanigans that will ultimately mobilize angry pro-choice voters in the midterms, which is a familiar talking point that ultimately did not prove itself out when we lost our constitutional right to abortion a few short months ago. (Donald Trump could never be president! Roe is established precedent!)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi dismissed Graham’s effort as Republicans “digging themselves a hole,” adding, “women are not happy about this.” President Joe Biden has not addressed the matter, and Vice President Kamala Harris pointed out on Twitter that the announcement came as Democrats were working to lower costs via the Inflation Reduction Act. Now, hostile states have jumped at the chance to ban abortion in ways that would have been unthinkable not so long ago. Anti-abortion groups are mobilizing to focus their efforts in so-called haven states for abortion access. Lawmakers are doing the most to demonstrate their ignorance of the female reproductive system. Graham’s proposed law itself leans heavily on disinformation and stigmatizing language, referring to abortions past 15 weeks as “late-term abortions” (that is not a medical designation). This ban, and the others that will surely be presented in the future, are all part of the long game to outlaw abortion, yes, at the federal level.
While it does seem unlikely that the national legislation could gain enough momentum to pass presently, it will not be the last attempt of its kind, and should Republicans hold a majority after the midterms, a national ban will become a very real threat. The eerie quiet since Graham’s announcement has been reminiscent of the last decade or so leading up to the Dobbs case. Abortion advocates, particularly those who belong to the communities that are most affected by abortion restrictions, loudly warned us of the fall of Roe long before it arrived. They were largely ignored, or patronized and dismissed. Spoiler alert: privileged white folks did not save the right to abortion when they had the chance. But they are presently leading the charge to make this type of healthcare harder and harder to access.
Perhaps the most aggravating response to all of this is that the midterms will change it, or that the answer is simply to vote. Yes, of course, please vote. But also, let’s not pretend that the right to vote hasn’t been gerrymandered into oblivion in the states where progress would be the most significant. Let’s not ignore the work that has been done to make some votes matter more than others. So, yes, vote, but also do what you can to lift up those who have been helping patients access abortion care on the ground, who have proven their knowledge of the landscape and their savvy at navigating the political bullshit to do the work that actually matters.
Personally, I ride hard for all the abortion funds in the Southeast, most of which are led by queer folks and women of color. Groups like We Testify operate on a national basis to destigmatize abortion through storytelling and information sharing while taking great care to remain inclusive and accessible at all times. Indigenous Women Rising works toward reproductive justice for Indigenous peoples, and their leadership reflects the communities they serve. Abortion funds in Texas have been on the frontlines for so long, and they could really use some love.
The thing is, we’re all tired. We’re tired of the racist, classist system that was built to serve some—not all, not even close—and of the steady escalation of bad to worse. There is power in making us tired, in draining our energy by forcing people to work to seek out the truth from a swamp of disinformation. It saps us of our energy, it steals our voices. The helplessness and the apathy that so many people are experiencing is understandable. Earned, even. But it’s important to recognize that we’re being made to feel that way as a means to an end that would strip us of our rights and our basic autonomy.