GOP hopefuls, lawmakers splinter over Lindsey Graham’s proposed abortion ban

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(WASHINGTON) -- South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham's proposal this week of a 15-week national abortion ban -- with limited exceptions -- has drawn mixed reaction from other conservatives in the final eight weeks before the November midterms, after which Graham hopes to bring his bill up for a vote.

The announcement of the legislation was quickly seized upon by Democrats who see support for abortion access as a motivating issue for voters across the country, even in red states.

The potential ban also inspired a slew of questions for Republicans who had been assailing the Biden administration over high inflation numbers.

Graham defended the move to ABC News.

"I think that's where the country is at. So, I don't mind talking about pro-life issues," he said Wednesday, adding, "I think my proposal over time will be supported by the public at large."

"You need to stand up for what you believe, right? That's a good thing," he said.

With just about two months until the general election that will decide control of Congress, Graham's proposal has splintered the Republican Party, which had worked to adopt mixed messages for different parts of the country since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June and ruled that abortion should be left up to individual states.

Graham's proposal is the first GOP effort to ban abortion on a federal level since that decision and contains limited exceptions for cases of rape, incest or when the mother's life is in danger.

Former Vice President Mike Pence said he supported a national ban, telling Real Clear Politics in a Wednesday interview that he believed "enthusiasm among pro-life Americans in states across the country is equal to, or greater than, any new motivation by people that support abortion rights."

Pence said that barring access to most abortions after 15 weeks was "profoundly more important than any short-term politics."

But other Republicans -- some in difficult midterm races in battleground states -- have distanced themselves from the proposed legislation, saying abortion restrictions should be up to individual states.

Blake Masters, Arizona's Republican Senate nominee against incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly, avoided discussion of Graham's abortion ban while at a Yuma border event on Wednesday, following his Tuesday remarks in support of the bill. He said Wednesday if Graham's bill does not pass, Republicans should take up a "a third-trimester standalone bill."

"Certainly we can all agree that in America, we shouldn't tolerate late-term abortion like China and North Korea do," Masters said in a statement to ABC News.

Masters -- under fire in TV ads by Democrats for his anti-abortion stance -- already supports a 15-week ban on abortion, with exceptions only for the life of the mother, soon to take effect in Arizona. He did, however, scrub his website of the topic after Roe was overturned, removing language that said "I am 100% pro-life."

Abortion access has proven to be a driving issue for voters, demonstrated most strongly in Kansas, when the historically conservative state overwhelmingly rejected a referendum that would have stripped away abortion rights from the state constitution.

Abortion access has also been seen as an influencing factor in special elections in New York and Alaska, where Democratic candidates with campaigns focused on abortion won their races. Even Republicans in Graham's home state of South Carolina are having trouble passing an abortion ban.

​​In Georgia, Republican Herschel Walker -- locked in a tight race against incumbent Rep. Raphael Warnock -- said the issue "should be decided at the state level, but I WOULD support" Graham's proposal in the Senate.

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, one of the party's most vulnerable incumbents, up for reelection in Wisconsin, said "nothing is going to pass in Congress" and that the issue should be left up to states.

"It's got to be decided in the states. I think that is the appropriate place for this to be decided," Johnson told ABC News on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for Dr. Mehmet Oz, the GOP candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania, made a similar point, suggesting he would not support the Graham bill but not directly commenting.

"Dr. Oz is pro-life with three exceptions: life of the mother, rape and incest. And as a senator, he'd want to make sure that the federal government is not involved in interfering with the state's decisions on the topic," his spokesperson said.

Don Bolduc, the Trump-endorsed winner of New Hampshire's Tuesday GOP primary, said he would not vote for the bill.

"I believe the federal government should stay out of it," Bolduc, who has campaigned as anti-abortion, told ABC News. "Let the states deal with it. That's going to be my position in Washington, D.C."

The Republican Senate candidate in Colorado, Joe O'Dea, said he supported a different position on abortion restrictions -- not what Graham called for.

"America wants balance on the abortion issue, not a forever cold war between the far left and the far right. Congress should pass a bill protecting a woman's right to choose early in pregnancy, whether a woman lives in Mississippi or Massachusetts, and there should be sensible limits on non-medically necessary late term abortion and parental notification for minors. I don't support Senator Graham's bill," O'Dea said in a statement.

"A Republican ban is as reckless and tone deaf as is Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer's hostility to considering any compromise on late term abortion, parental notification, or conscience protections for religious hospitals," O'Dea said.

Ohio GOP Senate nominee JD Vance and Nevada GOP Senate nominee Adam Laxalt did not respond to requests for comment.

The candidates' distance comes as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday threw cold water on Graham's proposal. When asked if he would bring the measure to the Senate floor should the GOP retake the chamber, McConnell said "most of the members of my conference prefer that this be dealt with at the state level."

Other Republicans have embraced the legislation.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is an original co-sponsor of Graham's proposed ban. His support comes as his general election opponent, Democratic Rep. Val Demings, has levied campaign attacks on the incumbent's anti-abortion views.

When asked if his position on the bill would influence support for him in his race against Demings, Rubio told reporters in Washington that he'd "never analyzed this politically" but that's he's staunchly "pro-life."

"That has never been a mystery. I've never hidden that. And I'll vote for any bill that helps it," he said, noting that the legislation would not likely pass if voted upon.

"No, of course, this is going to be dealt with at the state level … If [Democrats] think this is such a big political winner, then they shouldn't be worried about states deciding," Rubio said. "They know it's not going to pass here."

A spokesperson for Demings told ABC News in a statement that Floridians will "hold Rubio accountable for his out of touch stance in November," following news of his co-sponsorship of Graham's ban.

Rep. Ted Budd, R- N.C., running in a competitive Senate race against Democrat Cheri Beasley, on Wednesday also signed on as co-sponsor of a House version of Graham's Senate legislation.

Separately, big-name Republicans like Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina have backed the idea that states should dictate their position on abortion.

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