Is a 12-week abortion ban an effective compromise for the GOP in 2024?

Credit: (Photo illustration: Jack Forbes/Yahoo News; photos: Joshua Boucher/The State/Tribune News Service via Getty Images, Sean Rayford/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images, Getty Images)
Credit: (Photo illustration: Jack Forbes/Yahoo News; photos: Joshua Boucher/The State/Tribune News Service via Getty Images, Sean Rayford/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images, Getty Images)

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This week, Nebraska’s Republican Gov. Jim Pillen signed a bill that bans abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy, and it is now in full effect.

It comes after North Carolina’s Republican-controlled Legislature recently voted to override a veto of a 12-week abortion ban bill by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, allowing it to become law starting in July, with other restrictions beginning in October.

After Roe v. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court last June, the Tar Heel State saw the largest spike in abortions in the U.S., according to a #WeCount Report by the Society of Family Planning, highlighting the state’s status as a significant abortion access point in the region.

North Carolina’s 12-week law is the first post-Roe ban that hasn’t outlawed all or most abortions. Surrounding red states like Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia all ban abortion in most circumstances.

Meanwhile, Florida followed Georgia’s lead and recently passed a six-week abortion ban, a time when most women don’t know they’re even pregnant. Former President Donald Trump criticized presidential GOP hopeful Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, saying the six-week ban was “too harsh.”

DeSantis defended the legislative move at a news conference last week, saying, “Protecting an unborn child when there’s a detectable heartbeat is something that almost 99% of pro-lifers support.”

Why there’s debate

Lately, Republicans have suffered defeat on a string of abortion-related issues, from ballot measures in the 2022 midterms to losing a Wisconsin state supreme court seat in an April election. Now, prominent figures in the GOP are calling for their party to find unity on the issue ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley recently said it’s “not realistic” for any 2024 candidate to promise a federal abortion ban, should the candidate make it to the White House.

Republican Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina told Yahoo News in early May that her party should embrace a more “compassionate and compelling message” that is both “pro-woman and pro-life.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly all abortions in 2020 took place early in gestation, with 93.1% performed at or less than 13 weeks of pregnancy. North Carolina’s Legislature is hoping its 12-week abortion ban will become the “mainstream” model for the rest of the nation.

North Carolina’s law includes exceptions for rape and incest up to 20 weeks, and for life-limiting fetal anomalies up to 24 weeks. But abortion rights advocates and Democrats have argued that there’s much more than meets the eye in the 12-week abortion bill.

Cooper has argued the law would “effectively ban many abortions altogether” because of the restrictions and requirements buried within the law.

Those include the following: requiring in-person consultations 72 hours before the abortion procedure; limiting doctors to prescribing abortion-inducing drugs to the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, after which patients would have to get a surgical abortion; mandating that abortions after 12 weeks must be performed at a hospital; and establishing new regulations and licensing requirements for abortion providers, which could limit clinics.

What’s next

In the South, Virginia could become the last state in the region with relatively easy access to abortion as Republican South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster is expected to sign a six-week ban on abortion approved by the state Senate this week. Notably, three GOP women state senators had urged members of their party to adopt a 12-week ban on abortion, calling it a “real compromise,” and joined all Democrats in voting against the six-week abortion ban bill.

Looking ahead to 2024, abortion-related measures are already on the ballot in two states. In New York and Maryland, voters will decide in the general election on whether to amend the state Constitution to protect the right to abortion.


Exceptions and restrictions aren’t realistic or helpful

“Even when exceptions are written into abortion bans in a state, they are not meaningfully helpful in real life. … We’ve heard about patients being told to wait until they’re bleeding more heavily than they currently are, or wait until they are in much more of an emergency health situation than they currently are in order to get care. Hospitals are not interested in testing the legal boundaries to see what is permissible under a hostile state abortion ban, and it’s pregnant women that will pay the price.” — Kelly Baden, vice president for public policy at the Guttmacher Institute, told Yahoo News

12-week ban would further limit abortion access for women in surrounding states

“Currently, the consultation is able to occur by phone, so patients do not have to be physically present. Senate Bill 20 would change that, mandating that the initial consultation occur in person. That creates significant burdens for working people, people traveling from out of state and anyone else who cannot afford or manage a multi-day trip.” — Paige Masten, Charlotte Observer

12-week abortion cutoff is common around the world

“South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham’s introduction of a bill banning abortion nationwide after 15 weeks of gestation has even some members of his party wincing. … In some countries, of course, abortion is outlawed altogether, including Malta, Honduras, Nicaragua and Madagascar. But the most common gestational cutoff around the world is 12 weeks, Axios reported, making Graham’s bill seem not quite as extreme as abortion-rights supporters are saying.” — Jennifer Graham, Deseret News

North Carolina is not Europe

“Mostly, the GOP supermajority has described the bill as ‘mainstream,’ ‘common-sense’ and ‘pro-woman.’ With this bill, they say, North Carolina will join the ranks of other countries, particularly in Europe, that have similar gestational limits on abortion. That’s disingenuous, because North Carolina is not Europe, for many reasons. For one, the health care landscape in North Carolina is radically different. For many Europeans, going to the doctor is accessible and affordable. Here in North Carolina, we’re just now getting around to expanding Medicaid and 14 abortion clinics service the entire state.” — Editorial Board, Charlotte Observer

First trimester cutoff is popular in the polls

“A consistent majority of people support legal abortion, but really only in the first trimester. Last year, Pew reported that only one-third of respondents believed that abortion should be broadly legal with no exceptions by 14 weeks of gestation, and Gallup found that while two-thirds of the country support legal first-trimester abortion, a majority oppose abortion after that 12-week mark.” — Tiana Lowe Doescher, commentary writer, for Washington Examiner

North Carolinians oppose a 12-week ban and are less likely to vote for someone who supported it

“On the basic core of Senate Bill 20 — limiting the weeks of pregnancy through which a woman is eligible for abortion care — voters are opposed by a 14 point margin (54% to 40%). Most of that 56% of opposition is ‘strongly opposed’ … There's also bad news in the poll for candidates supporting the proposed 12-week abortion ban. When asked, a majority of voters say they are more likely to oppose state legislative candidates supporting such a ban, including a majority of Independents, Women and Suburban voters. Most of that sentiment is similarly strongly held. Even 1 in 5 Republican voters say they're less likely to support a candidate voting for such a ban.” — Carolina Forward

These 12-week abortion bills aren’t perfect, but it’s something

“None of these bills is perfect. But each bill would save some lives, and it would be a grave error to insist that no lives should be saved until all lives can be saved.” — Editors, National Review