A group of GOP lawmakers is currently preparing to ramp up the pressure on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) to bring a 20-week abortion ban to a floor vote. The Republicans are organizing their push around the one year anniversary of illegal abortion provider Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s murder conviction, claiming that the best way to prevent other doctors from committing similar crimes is to outlaw abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
In reality, a 20-week abortion ban wouldn’t have done anything to stop Gosnell, who preyed on economically disadvantaged and immigrant women in the Philadelphia area. He was convicted of performing procedures well past the current legal limit, and he lured low-income women into his unsanitary clinic by slashing the prices for his services. The best policy solution to prevent future Gosnells would actually be to ensure that legal abortion services are affordable and accessible for every individual, so women aren’t forced to resort to desperate measures.
Nonetheless, over the past year, Republicans have repeatedly seized on Gosnell’s name to advance their anti-choice agenda. By drawing disingenuous parallels between Gosnell’s crimes and legal abortion providers, conservative lawmakers have attempted to construe all abortion services as barbaric. After Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis’ now-infamous filibuster against a package of extreme abortion restrictions in her state, abortion opponents even claimed she was “standing with Gosnell.”
It’s a rhetorical strategy, but it’s having a real legislative impact. Last summer, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives passed a 20-week abortion ban partially based on this argument about Gosnell. Shortly thereafter, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced a companion measure in the Senate. Now, exactly one year after Gosnell was convicted on three counts of first-degree murder, Graham wants some movement on his legislation.
Graham’s bill isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, since Reid isn’t likely to bring it to a vote. This particular abortion fight is largely a way for Graham to boost his pro-life credentials before his primary election. Still, reproductive rights groups are pushing back, pointing out there isn’t an overwhelmingly strong pro-choice majority in the Senate.
“Make no mistake, our margin is razor thin,” Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, wrote in an email to supporters on Monday. “This bill already passed the House of Representatives last year. If it passes the Senate, anti-choice forces will grow even stronger.”
And from a broader perspective, it’s important to remember that the anti-choice community has been largely successful in its ongoing 20-week strategy, which is ultimately a tactic designed to slowly chip away at Roe v. Wade. Over the past several years, an increasing number of states have enacted their own 20-week abortion bans, based on the scientifically inaccurate theory that fetuses can feel pain at that point. Framing the issue in terms of “late term abortion” and invoking Gosnell’s crimes has given abortion opponents the upper hand when it comes to public opinion, too.
Just last month, Mississippi became the latest state to approve this blatantly unconstitutional abortion restriction. And West Virginia recently became the first Democratic-controlled state to pass a 20-week ban. Although the governor ended up vetoing it, that bill did win the support of U.S. Sen Joe Manchin (D-WV) — whom abortion opponents have been pressuring to become the first pro-life Democratic sponsor to Graham’s national legislation.