Republicans deploy new playbook for abortion bans

Nebraska antiabortion groups and GOP lawmakers were stunned. In late April, their effort to ban most abortions was tanked by an unlikely person: 80-year-old Sen. Merv Riepe, a longtime Republican.

Instead, on Friday, Nebraska’s conservative legislature voted to ban abortions at 12 weeks of pregnancy — a threshold that significantly narrows the window for legal abortions but still allows the vast majority to occur.

A few days earlier, North Carolina Republicans used their legislative supermajority to enact a similar 12-week ban, calling it a “mainstream” approach that would be more broadly accepted than the stricter bans many conservatives had sought to pass. And in neighboring South Carolina, state Sen. Katrina Shealy (R) told The Washington Post that she and the other female GOP senators who blocked a near-total ban are planning to push for a 12-week ban on most abortions when the state Senate takes up a bill next week restricting abortion after roughly six weeks of pregnancy.

“We can’t live at the extremes,” North Carolina Sen. Amy Galey (R) said in an interview. “As a country, we can find a way to take a difficult issue and resolve it without a huge amount of acrimony and viciousness.”

Immediately after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Republican lawmakers were quick to embrace so-called “trigger” bans designed to take effect as soon as the decision was released, while others rushed to pass additional restrictions that would halt the procedure in their states, sometimes backing proposals that did not include exceptions for rape or incest.

Now, almost a year later, lawmakers in some Republican-led states have started coalescing behind bans that allow most abortions to continue — a reaction, some Republicans say, to the sustained political backlash to abortion restrictions that has been mounting since the landmark decision in June.

While the 12-week bans have so far only passed in two states — North Carolina and Nebraska — the proposal has also gained traction with some national antiabortion groups who say they’re supportive of restricting abortions as far as a state can, including Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, which has also been pushing for, at minimum, national limits on abortion at 15 weeks.

But the approach has drawn sharp criticism from others in the antiabortion movement, who argue the 12 or 15 week bans don’t do enough to stop what they see as widespread murder, allowing more than 90 percent of abortions to continue. Some Republican lawmakers and antiabortion advocates remain adamant that the only path forward is to aim to eradicate abortion completely nationwide.

How voters respond to these new bans could impact how abortion plays out as an issue in the 2024 presidential election. With little polling on the 12 week proposals, it’s unclear whether voters will buy Republican arguments that these kinds of bans are a “mainstream” compromise.

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