Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) waits to speak at a Capitol Hill...

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) waits to speak at a Capitol Hill news conference to announce a new bill on abortion restrictions Tuesday.  Credit: Getty Images/Drew Angerer

WASHINGTON — Abortion emerged as a bigger issue in the midterm elections last week after Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham introduced a bill that would impose a national ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, lawmakers and analysts said.

Democrats pounced on the bill after Graham’s news conference unveiling it Tuesday, and Republicans appeared caught off guard and conflicted about a nationwide abortion ban.

"I think most of the members of my conference prefer that this be dealt with at the state level," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said.

“Here’s how you know Republicans are dangerously out of touch: months after women had their freedom of choice taken away by the MAGA Supreme Court, a nationwide abortion ban was actually their attempt to seem more mainstream,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) jabbed at divisions among Republican members of Congress on abortion: “There are those in the party that think life begins at the candlelight dinner the night before.”

Pelosi continued: “We are united in our support for women's right to choose.”

Republicans downplayed the importance of abortion to their prospects in the midterm elections and countered that Democrats have seized it as a campaign issue to divert attention from the Biden administration’s failure to address economic and public safety problems.

“They know they are losing and desperately trying to find anything they can campaign on other than their terrible record, on the border, on crime and on the economy,” Sen. John Barasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, told Newsday.

But most pollsters and pundits have noted that Democrats appear to be benefiting from the re-emergence of abortion as a campaign issue as Biden's approval rating edges up and Democrats' enthusiasm for voting has grown in select races. 

Graham, of South Carolina, surprised many in the Senate when he held a news conference to introduce a slightly stricter version of a bill — banning abortions nationally after 15 instead of 20 weeks — he has sponsored each session of Congress since 2015.

In its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June, the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade decision that had established a constitutional right to abortion.

That turned the issue over to the states — and many conservative Republican state legislatures immediately began putting restrictions on abortions, or even outlawing them.

Most Republicans in Congress have long advocated for a ban on most abortions.

Before the Dobbs decision, almost all Senate Republicans had supported Graham's bills to limit abortion to 20 weeks of pregnancy.

In 2020, McConnell and 47 GOP senators co-sponsored Graham's bill, which would criminalize some abortions.

Yet the unexpected record voter turnout in August that defeated a proposed constitutional amendment in Kansas that would have allowed state lawmakers to end abortion rights showed the potency of the hot-button issue of abortion since the Dobbs decision.

Pollsters have not surveyed voters on abortion since Graham unveiled his new bill.

But polls taken in recent weeks show the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a national right to abortion and turning the matter over to states has abortion in the mix of issues that could affect the Nov. 8 elections.

Inflation and abortion ranked as the two top issues motivating voters to go to the polls, according to a Fox News Poll last Wednesday that was based on a survey of registered voters conducted Sept. 9-12.

A New York Times Poll published Friday from a survey conducted Sept. 6-14 found that 62% of respondents favored some form of legal abortion and also opposed the Supreme Court’s decision scrapping Roe v. Wade.

Democrats have stopped short of calling the midterms a referendum on abortion.

“It depends on the district. It depends on the candidates. So, it’s not necessarily a referendum,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) told Newsday after a Senate Democratic news conference Thursday on the bill introduced by Graham.

“He’s nationalized the issue and he also is saying he wants this to be the law of the land,” Gillibrand said. “It’s shocking in its breadth, and it’s really counter to most of Americans’ views that people in America deserve the right to privacy.”

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