Republicans revived the divisive issue of abortion Thursday in the US Senate, introducing a bill that would ban the procedure after the 20th week of pregnancy.
Senator Lindsey Graham, flanked by anti-abortion activists, put forward the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, shrugging off criticism that his partyâ€™s focus on social issues might be hampering Republican progress at the ballot box.
Amid a changing American electorate, Republicans have grown increasingly split over how to approach social issues like gay rights and womenâ€™s health.
A historic measure banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, for example, passed the Senate Thursday with support from 10 Republicans.
Grahamâ€™s bill is a likely non-starter in the Democratically-controlled Senate, but he and his 33 co-signers see late-term abortions as one social issue that could help unite Republicans ahead of next yearâ€™s mid-term elections.
The measure, almost identical to one that passed the Republican-led House earlier this year, would ban abortions after 20 weeks except in the cases of rape, or incest with a minor, or in order to save the life of the pregnant woman.
It would provide for up to five years in jail for violators.
Graham pointed to scientific evidence that a fetus can feel pain in the 20th week of pregnancy, and that the American public has grown increasingly opposed to late-term abortions.
â€œIf science is telling the parents to sing or talk to the child (at 20 weeks of pregnancy), what should we be doing?â€ Graham said.
â€œI believe there is a compelling interest in protecting these unborn children who are among the most vulnerable in our society.â€
Senator Rob Portman said one goal is to make abortion â€œas rare as possible. This legislation is a step in that direction.â€
Senate Democrat Patty Murray derided Grahamâ€™s effort as â€œextreme and unconstitutional,â€ and ridiculed the political timing as it comes on the heels of a bitter fiscal fight that led to a recent government shutdown.
â€œIt is going nowhere in the Senate, and those Republicans know it,â€ Murray told the chamber.
â€œThe American people want us to focus on jobs and the economy.â€
Murray stressed that, 40 years after the Supreme Court decision upholding the legality of abortion, she hoped Republicans would have â€œcome to grips with the fact that Roe V Wade is settled law.â€
A recent Quinnipiac poll showed that 55 percent of voters support the 20-week limit on abortion.
The bill could help Graham shore up support from conservatives who distrust the South Carolina lawmaker ever since he backed the Senateâ€™s comprehensive immigration reform effort.
But Graham dismissed suggestions he was introducing it in anticipation of a primary challenge next year from the far-right, saying it was a matter of conscience.
â€œI just didnâ€™t wake up a couple weeks ago and become pro-life,â€ he told AFP.
Explore further: US House takes up far-reaching anti-abortion bill (Update)
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