Pennsylvania Races Loom Larger as Senate and House Republicans Introduce Nationwide Abortion Ban

Pro-Choice Protestors gather at the "Bans Off Our Bodies" Rally at the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg on Oct. 2, 2021 to protest Texas' Anti-Abortion laws. (Image via Shutterstock)

By Patrick Berkery, Keya Vakil

September 15, 2022

“If we take back the House and the Senate, I can assure you we’ll have a vote on our bill,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said on Tuesday. “If the Democrats are in charge, I don’t know if we’ll ever have a vote on our bill.”

Reproductive freedom will be on the ballot in November. Republicans made that clear on Tuesday when Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and more than 80 House Republicans introduced a bill to ban abortion nationwide after 15 weeks.

The bill would leave in place existing state bans that are more restrictive but would override current bans after 15 weeks and outlaw abortion in states where it’s currently permitted under state law.

Pennsylvania’s current law on abortion allows for the termination of a pregnancy up to 24 weeks. A patient seeking an abortion must receive state-mandated counseling that includes a 24-hour waiting period between the initial appointment and when the procedure is provided.

“I think we should have a law at the federal level that would say, after 15 weeks, no abortion on demand except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother,” Graham said at a news conference, leaving out the fact that his bill still forces rape victims to jump through hoops to seek abortion care.

House Republicans also introduced a version of the bill on Tuesday, with 85 GOP lawmakers—including Pennnsylvania congressmen Mike Kelly, Guy Reschenthaler, Lloyd Smucker, Fred Keller, and John Joyce—signing onto the nationwide abortion ban. 

The legislation all but confirms what reproductive freedom advocates and Democrats have been arguing even before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade: that the Republican claim that they want to leave abortion up to the states is a lie and that a national ban is next on their agenda.  

While Graham’s bill stands no chance of passing with Democrats in control of the Senate, it makes the stakes of November’s elections crystal clear. 

“If we take back the House and the Senate, I can assure you we’ll have a vote on our bill,” Graham said on Tuesday. “If the Democrats are in charge, I don’t know if we’ll ever have a vote on our bill.” 

A win by Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania’s US Senate race would help the chances of Graham’s bill. The abortion issue is taking center stage in the race between Oz and Democrat John Fetterman, who is an unequivocal supporter of reproductive rights.

Oz compared abortion to “murder” during a campaign event in May. More recently, he’s flip-flopped and claimed to oppose women’s reproductive freedom, except for cases of rape, incest, or the life of the mother. 

Among the nine Republicans in Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation—all of whom are up for reelection in November—only Brian Fitzpatrick voted in favor of the Ensuring Access to Abortion Act, which passed the House in July.

After news broke on Tuesday about Graham’s bill, Oz’s campaign spokesperson refused to state clearly whether he supported the ban.

Fetterman called on his opponent to say whether he supports Graham’s proposed nationwide abortion ban or not.

“This isn’t some TV show. This matters. These are people’s lives,” Fetterman said in a statement. “This is a bill that he would actually have to vote on. Oz needs to tell us — yes or no, would you support this bill? I’ll help him out and go first: I’m a HELL NO.”

The Biden administration also blasted the proposed ban and reiterated the president’s support for efforts to restore reproductive freedom nationwide. 

“This bill is wildly out of step with what Americans believe,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement. “President Biden and Congressional Democrats are committed to restoring the protections of Roe v. Wade in the face of continued radical steps by elected Republicans to put personal health care decisions in the hands of politicians instead of women and their doctors, threatening women’s health and lives.”

Pennsylvania Races Loom Larger as Senate and House Republicans Introduce Nationwide Abortion Ban

Overwhelming majorities of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases and oppose 15-week bans

Recent polling from Franklin & Marshall College shows growing support for reproductive freedom among Pennsylvanians, with 37 percent of registered voters in the commonwealth believing abortion should be legal under any circumstances. Fifty-two percent said abortion should be legal under certain circumstances. 

And since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, Pennsylvania’s women were outpacing men in new voter registration by 12%, with 62% of those women registering as Democrats.

A national ban is even more unpopular, according to research from Data for Progress, a polling firm whose analysis found there’s not a single state where more than 30% of voters support a national ban.

Republicans have tried to claim the 15-week ban proposal is a commonsense measure to ban “late-term abortions,” a misleading phrase used by anti-abortion activists. Previously, the term has been used to refer to abortions after 21 weeks—which make up fewer than 1% of all abortions and almost exclusively happen in cases of maternal health problems and fetal anomalies. 

Now, Graham and House Repubkicans are making the factually incorrect case that any abortion after 15 weeks is “late-term.”

In reality, their bill would ban abortion right around the time in pregnancy that abnormalities and complications are first able to be detected, forcing women to either obtain illegal abortions or leave the country to terminate their pregnancies. 

Reproductive freedom advocates were quick to call out the misleading rhetoric and the danger of Graham’s proposal.

“15 weeks is not ‘late term,’ particularly given the significant challenges to access around the country,” Christina Reynolds, vice president of communications at Emily’s List, wrote in a tweet. “Let’s be clear: this is their first step to a full ban.”

Statements from anti-abortion activists suggest Reynolds’ prediction is accurate. 

“I think the place to begin is where Graham is beginning,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, told The Washington Post before the bill’s introduction, suggesting that Graham’s 15-week ban was not the end goal for anti-abortion conservatives.

And while Graham’s proposal makes exceptions for rape, incest, and when “necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman,” the bill erects numerous hurdles for rape victims to bypass as they seek abortion care.

An adult rape victim would be forced to seek counseling or medical treatment from a government-licensed facility and then wait 48 hours before obtaining an abortion. The victim would also be forced to provide documentation showing they complied with the requirement to their abortion provider prior to receiving services. 

The barriers for child victims of rape are even more onerous, as physicians would be required to report the rape to a child welfare or law enforcement agency prior to offering care. 

Providers would also be obligated to perform abortions using a method “provides the best opportunity for the unborn child to survive.” 

This clause seems to suggest that there would be certain cases in which doctors would be forced to induce labor rather than terminate a pregnancy—which means some victims of rape and incest could be forced to give birth, even with Graham’s so-called exceptions.


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