Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) recently launched the next salvo in the seemingly never-ending war on reproductive rights. Late last week, Graham introduced a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks, and asked Senate leaders to allow a vote prior to next year’s midterm elections.
The “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” would outlaw abortion after the 20th week of gestation, which is generally counted from the first day of the woman’s last menstrual period. The bill would allow for terminations in cases of rape; where the woman’s life is in danger; or when the pregnancy was the result of “incest against a minor.”
If Graham’s proposal sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Earlier this year, the House passed a similar bill, and a number of states either currently outlaw abortion around 20 weeks or are considering doing so. The rationale behind all of these measures lies in the highly controversial idea of “fetal pain,” a concept that few reputable physicians and medical establishments support but which has nevertheless gained traction in the anti-choice movement over the past several years.
These bills are clear challenges to Roe v. Wade, which states that abortion is legal until the 24th week of pregnancy and allows for an increasing amount of government interference during the third trimester (albeit in a more nuanced and thoughtful manner). Yet the press releases and official statements on these measures are jumbles of sound bytes and emotionally manipulative buzzwords like “sanctity of life” and “vulnerable” which obscure the true picture of why women would seek later abortions.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, 88 percent of all abortions occur in the first trimester. Of the remaining 12 percent, less than half–approximately 5.3 percent–occur after the 16th week of pregnancy. Just as there are relatively few women that seek later abortions, so are there relatively few physicians that will provide this service. While many providers keep a low profile for security reasons, it is fair to say that only a handful of doctors in this country will perform later abortions. It’s also fair to say that a later abortion is expensive; while exact costs vary, it’s not uncommon for a third-trimester procedure to cost several thousand dollars or more. That doesn’t include the cost to travel to a clinic, which most women will need to do; or stay in a hotel for at least one if not more nights for the multi-day procedure.
Graham and his anti-choice allies don’t mention those details in their bills. They also don’t talk about the reasons that a woman would decide to terminate in the late second trimester and third trimester of her pregnancy, even in the face of such significant financial and geographic challenges. In many cases, the decision is driven by health concerns: either the woman’s health is at risk, or the fetus has abnormalities that are incompatible with life (many of which can not be diagnosed until the second trimester). Other reasons hint at equally complex personal struggles: rape survivors that have been in denial about their pregnancies, women that are in domestic violence situations, mothers that didn’t plan to terminate but experienced job loss or other disruptions during the course of their pregnancies.
The odds of Graham’s bill passing the Senate, much less being signed into law by President Obama, are miniscule. But introducing this bill and demanding that it be put to a vote does more than divert lawmakers’ time away from more pressing matters. It also stands as one more way that anti-choice politicians broadcast their distaste for women making their own healthcare decisions, one more way that they do not trust women to know what is best for themselves and their families. Lindsey Graham and his supporters are using discredited science and sheer arrogance to single out the most rare form of abortion in the hopes of scoring political points, because that rallies their party in a way that few other issues can–and in a way that the GOP, still reeling from the shutdown debacle, would like right now.
In this, Graham and his cohorts aren’t “pro-life,” like they claim; or even pro-fetus, which is the more accurate term for those that will pull out all the stops for a potential life but too often refuse to provide the social and economic supports that children and families need. They are simply pro-GOP, and apparently nothing is more important than that.
Sarah Erdreich is the author of Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her family.