Radical and Cruel: The Graham-Budd Abortion Ban

September 26, 2022

Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in its now-infamous Dobbs decision, Republican politicians have been widely expected to make good on their decades of promises to ban abortion. Such a position is deeply unpopular with voters at large, however, making many Republicans extremely nervous about taking a public stance on the issue so close to a critical November midterm election.

Other Republicans, however, genuinely feel strongly that banning abortion is the right thing to do, no matter what. This is likely what prompted Republican Senator Lindsey Graham to file, on Tuesday, September 13th, a brand-new bill in Congress that would impose a national ban on abortion beyond just 15 weeks. In the U.S. House of Representatives, the bill (HR 8814) was co-sponsored by 86 Republican members of Congress – notably including North Carolina Representative Ted Budd – who, of course, is currently running for North Carolina’s open Senate seat.

The Graham-Budd national abortion ban bill has mostly received attention for the restrictive number of weeks it sets as a cutoff. But the bill actually does far more – and far worse – in the details. In its entirety, the Graham-Budd bill is deeply cruel, barbaric, and would inflict new legal restrictions on American women’s bodily autonomy that few alive today have ever experienced.

Basics of the Graham-Budd Bill

The Graham-Budd bill would impose a national ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Importantly, the bill would still allow states to set a lower limit for number of weeks (including banning any abortions whatsoever), just no higher one. In other words, the bill makes 15 weeks a ceiling, not a floor. (Note: see full text of H.R. 8814 here.)

Endangering women: The bill provides for very few exceptions after 15 weeks. It does not, for example, permit an exception to protect the health of the mother. Instead, it uses a much narrower standard, requiring that any abortion beyond 15 weeks be “necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman.” This difference is critical. Under this standard, an abortion to avoid serious and permanent (and likely agonizing) injury to the mother would still not be permitted, if it did not directly threaten her life.

Consider an example:

Many women, for example, experience premature rupture of the amniotic sac before viability. This condition can lead to septic infection, which in turn can lead to lethal organ failure. But when, exactly, could doctors legally terminate [a pregnancy] under Graham’s bill? How sick must a patient be? As one provider wondered: “Will I have to wait until she gets a fever, so I can check off that box, that she’s in danger? Is that sufficient or will it require her heart rate to go up or her blood pressure to go down? Will she have to wait until she’s unstable to have this option offered to her? At what point, exactly, will I be risking jail for helping my patient through this, unharmed?” (Slate)

Threatens doctors: Moreover, the bill leaves the determination of what qualifies as life-endangering up to a doctor’s “reasonable medical judgment.” But there’s a catch, as the passage above indicates: if an ambitious anti-choice prosecutor disagrees with that judgment, and is able to persuade a jury of the same, the doctor who performed that abortion would face five years in prison. This will have the obvious effect of making doctors much more reluctant to perform abortions, even at terrible risks to the woman’s health. This would directly endanger women’s lives.

Paperwork for rape and incest exceptions: The bill does contain exceptions for rape and incest – but with caveats. Adult victims of rape must first obtain documentation that they have obtained medical treatment or counseling for the rape, and then wait at least 48 hours. This will obviously delay procedures, potentially significantly. A victim would be required to wait first for a counseling appointment to become available (which could be days, a week, or longer), and then wait two more additional days, before obtaining a legal abortion. Victims of rape who are minors must report the incident to the police or child welfare agency.

Abnormalities: One of the more glaring cruelties of the Graham-Budd bill is that it contains no exceptions whatsoever for fetal abnormalities. This was intentional, since anti-abortion activists consistently lobby against any such exceptions. Unfortunately, this also threatens women with forcibly carrying doomed pregnancies to term. One reality of pregnancy is that most fetal abnormalities are, in fact, undetectable until after 15 weeks of development:

“Most pregnant people have what doctors call the ‘anatomy scan’ around 18 to 22 weeks — parents typically think of this appointment as the one in which they’ll find out the baby’s sex — to look for issues with various fetal organs, including making sure they are inside the body. It cannot be done earlier because for a period in the first trimester, a fetus’ intestines push outside of their body through the umbilical cord, then are pulled back in around 11 to 14 weeks. It isn’t until 15 to 17 weeks that doctors can start to see fetal heart structures clearly. It’s not until 16 to 19 weeks that they can get a good look at the brain, she [Dr. Chloe Zera, an OB/GYN at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston] said.” (The19th)

It’s important to realize that this is not a hypothetical – this kind of dystopia is already a reality in parts of America. A recent story out of Texas vividly portrays just such a real-life scenario. A Texas woman discovered in her second trimester that her fetus had developed a lethal, and previously undetectable, genetic anomaly called triploidy. Triploidy can not only kill the pregnant patient, but it means that a fetus, if born, will experience only a brief and very painful life outside the womb. Due to Texas’ six-week abortion ban, the woman was unable to obtain a procedure. Her doctors informed her – correctly, and tragically – that unless her death was “imminent,” they could not perform an abortion. The woman was forced to flee the state to obtain a legal abortion in New Mexico.

There is no other word for such a situation but “barbaric.”

What’s coming

There is a wide range of valid personal opinions about abortion. Good people can disagree about where they stand, and the choices they make in their own lives. Those who are uncomfortable with abortion are under no pressure to have one. Individuals must have the right to make their own choices within their own comfort zone on such a fraught topic.

Imposing new and draconian restrictions on the degrees of freedom that people may enjoy when it comes to their own bodies and healthcare is not only wrong morally, but it is also bad policy. Nevertheless, Republican Congressman Ted Budd has not only chosen to support such a wide-ranging ban, but to co-sponsor as its champion in Congress. He has done so despite the volumes of polling showing that such a stance is deeply unpopular with voters, because Rep. Budd genuinely believes in banning abortion. While we commend him for his commitment to principle, that principle is a terrible one. Women deserve full control over their own healthcare decisions, and we believe they will make that support clear in this midterm election.



See: “No Hearbeat” Ad Launches

Help build progress for North Carolina.

Get in touch
PO Box 452, Carrboro, NC 27510

    Stay updated with us

    Stay Updated

    Receive the latest news from Carolina Forward