Earlier this month, South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham received plaudits from pro-lifers for introducing federal legislation that will ban abortion after 20 weeks gestation. This move is strategically important for pro-lifers. For much of the 2012 election cycle, media attention was focused on situations where pro-life candidates spoke carelessly about opposing abortion in cases of rape. This is possibly the toughest political terrain for pro-life candidates. Twenty-week abortion bans shift the debate to much more favorable terrain.
Indeed, history shows federal legislation is helpful in framing the abortion debate in ways that are advantageous to pro-lifers. The campaign to end partial-birth abortion is a good example of this. The graphic images of innocent children being brutally aborted cut through the media spin and caused many to reconsider their own views. In September 1995, as the campaign was just starting, a Gallup poll indicated that only 33 percent of Americans identified themselves as “pro-life.” However, two years later, “pro-life” self identification increased to over 44 percent – and has never fallen below 40 percent since then. Furthermore, the fact that the partial-birth abortion ban was vetoed by President Clinton and opposed by many Democrats clearly showed how extreme many Democrats were on the issue.
Indeed, pursuing a 20-week abortion ban is good strategy for pro-lifers. Late-term abortions tend to be unpopular. Indeed, three national polls taken this past summer found that strong pluralities of Americans thought abortion should be banned after 20 weeks gestation. Interestingly, in each of these surveys, women were actually more likely than men to support 20-week abortion bans. These bans also polled well among young adults. Furthermore, the fact that there is medical evidence that the unborn can feel pain could create an additional legal rationale – in addition to viability — that would allow states to provide legal protection to the unborn. Overall, Senator Graham’s legislation deserves enthusiastic support from the pro-life community.