Senate GOP cautions Trump on 15-week national abortion ban

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Senate Republicans are warning former President Trump that restrictions on abortion should be left to the states and that proposing a 15-week national abortion ban ahead of this year’s election would be a major political blunder.

Republican lawmakers have argued for years that states should have the authority to set parameters on abortion and hailed the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in 2022 for handing that power to the states.

But now Trump has thrown a wrench into Senate Republicans’ efforts to distance themselves from a national debate on abortion rights by signaling that he would support a 15-week abortion ban.

“The Dobbs decision returned it to the states, and I’ve long said that this is an issue that belongs [with] the states. That’s where I think it belongs,” said Sen. Pete Ricketts (R-Neb.), voicing an opinion widely shared by Republicans in Congress.

Even some of Trump’s strongest allies in the Senate say that state legislatures and governors should make laws governing abortion, not lawmakers in Washington.

“I think that in general we ought to give the voters in the states the ability to decide this question,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who’s up for re-election in November. He noted that his home state will likely vote on a ballot initiative to legalize abortion later this year.

“I’m pretty leery of any grand national bargain because I just don’t think there’s consensus there,” he said.

Hawley said while Congress has the authority to pass a national abortion ban, he doesn’t think it should attempt to do so unless it were “something that people overwhelmingly support.”

The debate over a national abortion ban roiled Senate races in 2022, when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s closest allies on Capitol Hill, introduced a 15-week national abortion ban a few weeks before Election Day.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) tried to immediately snuff out the discussion about Graham’s proposal, reflecting concern among GOP strategists that it would only give political ammunition to Democrats who were highlighting abortion rights as a top issue in that year’s Senate and House races.

“I think most of the members of my conference prefer that this be dealt with at the state level,” McConnell told reporters at the time.

The debate over abortion rights reverberated loudly in races around the country that year as Democrats poured millions of dollars into campaign ads attacking Republican candidates as likely to further restrict women’s ability to obtain the procedure.

An analysis of the 2022 midterm elections by AdImpact found that Democratic advertisers aired 703,000 ads mentioning abortion between the time the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion rights decision, on June 24, 2022, and Election Day.

Senate Republican leaders had hoped to move beyond the abortion debate and focus on inflation, the economy and border security in this year’s election, but Trump has thrust congressional Republicans right back into the national abortion debate.

“The number of weeks, now, people are agreeing on 15, and I’m thinking in terms of that, and it’ll come out to something that’s very reasonable,” he told “Sid & Friends in the Morning,” a New York radio show, last week.

The New York Times reported in February that Trump had told advisers and allies that he favors the idea of a 16-week abortion ban with exceptions for cases of rape or incest and to protect the life of the mother.

Trump’s comments are in line with a majority of House Republicans, who last week endorsed a national abortion ban included in the budget unveiled by the Republican Study Committee, the largest caucus within the House Republican Conference.

But in the Senate the idea has support from just a minority of Republicans, including Graham, who told The Hill that he plans to reintroduce his 15-week abortion ban later this year.

“Yeah, I’m talking with the different groups on the best way to proceed,” he said. “I plan to do that, absolutely.”

Graham said he “needs to talk to” Trump about it but hasn’t gotten the chance to yet.

“I just think that’s where people are,” he said of a 15-week ban. “The pro-life movement is about … the well-being of the child.

“At 15 weeks you feel pain. To operate on a baby, you provide anesthesia. That’s what it’s about. 15 weeks puts you in line with the civilized world,” he said.

Supporters of Graham’s proposal argue that the United States is one of only a handful of countries that allow abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and that only three European countries allow abortions after 15 weeks.

But other Senate Republicans fear that drumming up a new debate about a national abortion ban will only inflict pointless political damage on GOP candidates given the low likelihood of it ever passing Congress. Such a ban would need 60 votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster.

“I’m still of the view that states should be making decisions on abortion and will be interested in seeing what various states do, but I’m not at this stage supporting any national legislation,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who is running to become the next Senate Republican whip, said the Supreme Court handed the power to enact abortion laws to the states and that’s where the issue should be decided.

“The Supreme Court has ruled. The states will make the decision. That’s what I was calling for when I was in the state Senate in Wyoming. It’s what I believe and continue to call for,” he said. “The Supreme Court made the decision. It’s up to the states.”

Democrats have jumped on Trump’s comments to put pressure on Republicans ahead of the general election.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) blasted the Republican Study Committee’s budget as “a wish list for Donald Trump and the MAGA hard right.”

“They want national abortion bans,” he warned.

Abortion rights groups are also putting the spotlight on Trump’s comments.

“Donald Trump has been nothing short of a disaster for women and reproductive freedom,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, in a statement highlighted by the Biden campaign.

“While Trump noodles on when to cut off access to essential abortion care, the vast majority of people are already clear on what we want — and that’s politicians staying out of our personal medical decisions.”

That’s the type of political attack that GOP senators want to avoid heading into this year’s election.

“I want to hear a lot more about it,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). “We’ll see how it turns out.

Cramer said he could be “open to looking” at national abortion legislation but emphasized he is “way more interested right now in seeing what we can do in North Dakota” to set rules at the state level for abortion.

Cramer said Trump may be simply floating the idea of a national ban to see if members of his party shoot it down.

“One thing about him is he’s pretty good at floating trial balloons and seeing how they fly,” he added.  

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