Sep 20, 2022

Lindsey Graham's abortion bill.

Lindsey Graham's abortion bill.

The South Carolina senator introduced a federal abortion ban.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 13 minutes.

Lindsey Graham's abortion bill, a question about the migrants in Martha's Vineyard, and the incoming challenge to student debt cancellation.

Photo: Gage Skidmore
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Quick hits.

  1. Puerto Rico's National Guard has rescued over 1,000 people stranded because of flooding from Hurricane Fiona, and 750,000 people are now without running water. (The floods)
  2. A sheriff in Texas opened a criminal investigation into the flights organized by Ron DeSantis that transported 48 migrants to Martha's Vineyard. (The investigation)
  3. Mark Frerichs, the last known U.S. hostage in Afghanistan, was released in a prisoner swap in exchange for Bashir Noorzai, a notorious drug lord and member of the Taliban. (The swap)
  4. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported 204,000 encounters at the U.S.-Mexico border in August, a 1.7% increase from July. More than two million migrants were encountered this fiscal year, for the first time ever. (The record)
  5. Officials in four Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine announced plans to formally annex the regions while Moscow threatened attacks on NATO. (The move)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.

Today's topic.

Lindsey Graham's abortion ban. Last week, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) proposed legislation that would restrict abortion access at the federal level. Graham said the bill would ban the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy nationwide, with exceptions for cases of rape, incest or risks to the mother's life and health.

The bill has no chance of becoming law in the Democratic-controlled Congress, but Graham framed it as a way for Republicans to take a clear position to counter Democrats, and to put the U.S. in line with other Western countries that impose similar restrictions.

"After they introduced a bill to define who they are, I thought it'd be nice to introduce a bill to define who we are," Graham said at a news conference while standing in front of 10 anti-abortion leaders, all of whom were women. "If we take back the House and the Senate, I can assure you we'll have a vote on our bill."

While the bill immediately drew fire from Democrats, who pointed to it as proof Republicans were never interested in leaving the issue to the states, it also drew the ire of Republican strategists. Since the ruling in Roe v. Wade was struck down, polling has shown abortion rights are becoming a major motivating issue for Democratic voters in 2022, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had previously said Republicans would leave such legislation to the states. Some Republicans, including Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AL) and Susan Collins (R-ME), criticized Graham, calling instead for a bipartisan bill to codify the abortion rights laid out in Roe v. Wade.

Graham also came under fire for contradicting comments he had made previously about leaving the issue up to the states.

“I’ve been consistent — I think states should decide the issue of marriage, and states should decide the issue of abortion,” Graham said in an Aug. 7 interview on CNN, a quote that was shared widely after news of the bill's introduction.

Graham, defending the bill in a Fox News interview, said he has always been consistent in his decades-long effort to ban abortion during the second and third trimesters. “To suggest that I’m new to the game opposing late-term abortion is ridiculous," he said.

In 2019, Guttmacher said there were 629,898 abortions in the United States compared to 1.5 million at the peak of its record keeping in 1991. That year, 93% of all abortions occurred during the first trimester, and 6% occurred between 14 and 20 weeks of pregnancy. The Guttmacher Institute maintains the most widely cited data on the number of abortions in America (and is cited by groups from across the political spectrum).

We have covered abortion, Roe v. Wade, and Democrats' abortion legislation extensively. You can find those articles here.

Today, we'll look at some responses to Graham from the right and left, then my take.

What the right is saying.

  • Many Republicans support the idea of the bill, though some worry about the timing.
  • Some call for Republicans to step up and sell Graham's bill to the public.
  • Others say there is no need to nationalize the issue, especially right now.

In Politico, Rich Lowry defended Graham's abortion bill.

"The South Carolina senator proposed a national restriction on abortion that has popular support and that could represent a defensible consensus GOP position. For this, he’s being portrayed as a political incompetent who has needlessly endangered his party’s prospects in the midterms," Lowry said. "It’s certainly true that any hope of rallying Republicans was quickly dashed as they, once again, scattered in panic and confusion like a herd of antelope after a big cat shows up at the watering hole. But that reaction is another sign of how badly the party needs to find an incrementalist position on abortion where it can plant its flag, and then focus its fire on the vulnerabilities of the other side.

"The Republicans experiencing a case of sudden-onset federalism on this issue are clearly motivated by political fear," he wrote. "Regardless, the debate at the national level has already been joined. Democrats want to pass the so-called Women’s Health Protection Act that would strike down all state-level restrictions on abortion. If nothing else, Graham’s proposal is a tool in this fight, and the broader battle for public opinion... A Harvard-Harris poll found that 72 percent of voters, including 70 percent of independents and 60 percent of Democrats, don’t think abortion should be permitted after 15 weeks at the state level. According to a Gallup survey, only 28 percent of people believe abortion should be legal in the second trimester and 13 percent in the third trimester. A WPA Intelligence poll shows even 51 percent of voters who think Republicans are extreme on abortion favor a 15-week ban."

In National Review, Alexandra DeSanctis said "the GOP platform has long called for legislating against abortion at the federal level."

"Why is it only now, when in the absence of Roe such a policy actually might take effect, that congressional Republicans have suddenly decided to voice their constitutional objections to federal abortion laws?" DeSanctis said. "There’s hardly a principled case for a 'no' vote now; instead, it seems to be out of fear that their 'yes' will be more noticeable when the bill stands a chance of becoming law. Perhaps the weakest objection to a federal pro-life law is the claim that it will give progressives reason to attempt a federal law legalizing abortion. For one thing, they’ve already attempted that several times, and come quite close to succeeding.

"For another, the progressive case that Congress has the authority to legalize abortion is far weaker than any argument pro-lifers have offered for the reverse," she added. "There simply is no good case to be made that the Constitution protects a right to abortion, and attempting to argue that the Constitution might work in the opposite direction doesn’t give credence to that non-argument. Finally, there are those on the right who fear that the pro-life movement will cost Republicans seats in Congress, and that the national GOP ought to keep quiet on the issue at least until November is behind us. But there’s little reason to believe a 15-week abortion ban is unpopular, much less an albatross."

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said Graham’s proposal is "constitutionally dubious and risks misreading the politics."

"The Democrats’ bill in Congress is far more extreme," they wrote. "Their bill would protect abortion on demand through fetal viability, about 23 weeks. After that line, it would also guarantee abortion access whenever the pregnancy is a risk to the patient’s “health,” which isn’t defined and is often interpreted to include emotional factors. The bill appears to protect sex-selective abortions, if parents who wanted a boy decide they would prefer to terminate a girl. Republicans already had plenty of political ammunition, and signing on to Mr. Graham’s bill leaves them open to charges of hypocrisy.

"After Roe v. Wade, conservatives spent five decades arguing that the Supreme Court had inflamed the country by nationalizing the debate on abortion, which is properly a state issue. This summer the Justices reversed that mistake in Dobbs, and the result has been hurly-burly democratic arguments in state legislatures. There’s no need to re-nationalize the question, and it isn’t clear Congress has the authority to do so," they said. "By Mr. Graham’s political logic, if voters in Colorado, Pennsylvania or Arizona think 15 weeks is too restrictive, they now have a reason to vote against those GOP Senate candidates. Every Republican candidate will be asked to take a stance, and a Senate majority is made by swing states."

What the left is saying.

  • The left says Graham's bill is extreme and dangerous.
  • Many call out the Republicans' hypocrisy of a national ban after saying "leave it to the states."
  • Some refute the idea that the bill would make us more like Europe.

Michelle Goldberg wrote about Lindsey Graham's "unbelievably cruel abortion ban."

"Graham was making an argument, common in anti-abortion circles, that American abortion laws are unusually permissive and that banning abortion at 12 or 15 weeks would bring us in line with Europe," Goldberg said. "France and Spain, for example, both permit abortion for any reason through 14 weeks, and Germany through 12 weeks post-conception. 'If we adopted my bill, our bill, we would be in the mainstream of most everybody else in the world,' said Graham. 'I think there are 47 of the 50 European countries have a ban on abortion from 12 to 15 weeks.' This is, at best, a highly selective reading of European abortion laws.

"It ignores the fact that on most of the continent, abortion is state-subsidized and easily accessible early in pregnancy, so women aren’t pushed into later terminations as they struggle to raise money. More significantly, the restrictions on later abortions have broad exceptions," she wrote. "Take German abortion laws, which are, for Europe, quite stringent. Until this summer, a Nazi-era ban on advertising abortion was still in effect, and abortion is still technically illegal, though it’s been decriminalized during the first trimester. After that, abortion is allowed to protect a woman’s physical or mental health, taking into account her ‘present and future circumstances.’ For low-income women, abortion is publicly funded."

The Washington Post editorial board called it "hypocritical" and "dangerous."

"Only months ago, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham wanted states to write their own abortion rules. Now, he has changed his mind: States should still write their own abortion rules, but only if those rules are harshly restrictive," the board said. "The hypocrisy is obvious coming from a legislator who insisted in May that the Supreme Court, when it handed down Roe v. Wade in 1973, committed a ‘power grab’ by depriving local officials of the ability to decide when and whether abortion should be legal. Yet there was Mr. Graham on Tuesday, announcing his desire for Congress to grab the power to set abortion policy from those very local officials.

"The science behind his arbitrary 15-week threshold is dubious; there’s no consensus on when a fetus begins to experience pain, the point at which Mr. Graham says abortion should be restricted. And his assertion that ‘47 of the 50 European countries’ have smilarly strict abortion rules is bogus. These societies Mr. Graham apparently considers ‘civilized’ may have strict gestational limits on paper. But in practice, most of their legal regimes governing pregnancy termination are forgiving. Generally, exceptions for things such as economic hardship and fetal abnormalities mean that women can get abortions after topline time limits pass, so long as they surmount some bureaucratic obstacles... What’s more, even if a hard-and-fast 15-week rule would align the United States with its peer democracies, Mr. Graham’s bill would not impose a consistent, nationwide policy. His legislation would allow conservative states to continue setting standards as draconian as they desire — which they’ve already started to do.”

In The Daily Beat, Erin Gloria Ryan said the bill was bad policy and dumb politics.

"The question foremost in my mind was: Who is this for? A nationwide abortion ban at a time like this is not only heartless policy, it’s stupid politics—all wrapped up in a bumbling, tone deaf presentation. Sen. Graham’s bizarre choice to announce his 'Just Kidding, Republicans Were Always Going to Try For A Federal Ban' strategy came as Republicans are on the ropes over this very issue," Ryan said. "The threat of banning abortion has galvanized voters from California to Kansas. Special elections that were supposed to be safely Republican—or at least toss-up—have gone to Democratic candidates by wider than expected margins. Polling looks bad for the party of Lincoln.

"Republicans know this. Even the crazy ones. In Arizona, senate candidate Blake Masters’ website scrubbed mentions of his hardline abortion stance (he supports a federal 'personhood' amendment that would declare all fertilized eggs to be 'persons' from the moment of conception, a stance so extreme that Mississippi voters rejected it ten years ago). In Washington, Republican senate hopeful Tiffany Smiley has tried to 'walk a fine line,' both supporting the total abortion ban in Texas and promising voters that she thinks the decision should be left up to the states... The winning message for Democrats in the 2022 midterms is that a vote for a Republican, no matter where they are on the ballot and no matter what they say, is a vote for a rollback of abortion rights."

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. It is meant to be one perspective amid many others. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, you can reply to this email and write in. If you're a paying subscriber, you can also leave a comment.

  • I agree that it is bad politics and bad policy.
  • Graham does deserve credit for doing the logical thing (if you say you believe abortion is murder).
  • It makes me wonder what the Republicans who criticize him really feel about abortion.

One of the most interesting pieces of commentary I've seen about this election cycle came from Republican Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies.

“There is a campaign about the economy, cost of living, crime and border security, and Republicans are winning this campaign," he told Politico. "But there is a second campaign on abortion, democracy and climate change, and Democrats are winning that campaign."

This strikes me as right on the nose.

Given that, what Graham did (on the same day a very bad inflation report was released) was rather stunning.

When I saw him roll out a press conference to announce the bill, and watched the immediate reaction of Republican politicians, strategists, commentators and voters, I was just perplexed. Nobody really seemed to think this was a good idea. The immediate reaction on the right ranged from a collective "what the hell is he thinking" to conservative commentators accusing him of intentional sabotage.

All the political news, for weeks, has been about the way the abortion fight is motivating Democratic voters, giving them life in a midterm season when they were supposed to get washed out. To see Graham step forward and propose this bill was one thing. To watch the optics of the press conference was another. Graham came out surrounded by women, compared the U.S. to Iran, and was totally unprepared for a reporter's question about her own personal experience of being forced to deliver a non-viable pregnancy.

All the critiques from the left seemed to come in unison because they were all so obvious. This was the opposite of what he said (it should be left up to the states), it was stricter than previous legislation he had proposed (20 weeks), and it was misleading about abortion access in many places in Europe (where it's often free and, unlike his proposed bill, there are broad exceptions).

I have written a lot about my position on abortion and understand many of my readers disagree with me. Putting that aside, what I think Graham underestimated here is just how many horrifying stories have been percolating since Roe v. Wade was struck down, and just how motivating the issue has become for the left. Many of them have been worse than people like me predicted: Women in Louisiana being forced to deliver babies who cannot survive outside the womb. A 16-year-old in Florida who must carry her pregnancy to term because a judge says she is too immature to have an abortion (but not too immature to be a mom). A 10-year-old rape victim who had to travel across state lines to get an abortion. Women facing dangerous, life-threatening ectopic pregnancies who can't get care.

These stories are scary to many, and coming every day, shared widely across social media and in the pages of news outlets, and they are defining the issue. Then in walks Graham, with a national proposal that extends those conditions to voters in states where abortion rights are still robust.

I will say one thing, though, that I'm not seeing many people say: Graham does deserve credit for pursuing an anti-abortion position in earnest. I've excoriated him as one of the politicians (and there are many) who is so slippery and hypocritical and dishonest that he is never worth trusting. His flip-flop on this being a state issue is a good example. But at the same time, he is actually doing one of the logical things to do if you genuinely hold the position he says he holds.

One thing I hear almost every time I talk to anyone in the pro-life movement is the idea that a lot of Republican politicians are pro-life for votes, publicly, but not in earnest. That the issue is not a strong conviction of theirs, just something they peddle during elections. In the eyes of the folks dedicated to ending abortion, there are a lot — and I mean a lot — of Republicans in office who trumpet anti-abortion rhetoric until it's time to actually do something.

For these voters, this proposal isn’t all that restrictive, and all the Republicans freaking out about it are only demonstrating their insincerity. So, while I agree with Graham’s critics that this is bad policy, bad timing, and bad politics, I do think he deserves credit for at least putting his money where his mouth is. If you believe abortion is murder, then the logical thing is to propose a national ban to stop it. If anything, Graham's bill — and the criticism from his purported pro-life Republican allies — begs the question of what they really believe.

Your questions, answered.

Q: You say the way Abbott and DeSantis are handling this [moving migrants north] is cruel. I feel like the question of whether it's cruel has to be measured by the effect it has on the actual migrants. It seems like the question is whether the migrants were better off than if they had stayed put. In El Paso, the city is so overrun that migrants are literally sleeping on the streets. Are we going to argue that they are worse off in DC? I have a hard time swallowing the word cruel as an accurate description here.

— Jeremey, Ft. Worth, Texas

Tangle: I think this is a compelling and reasonable way to frame the question. The Oxford definition of cruel is "willfully causing pain or suffering to others, or feeling no concern about it," so it seems relevant whether these policies are actually causing pain or suffering.

At the very least, the raw outcome here is a complicating factor. The migrants who arrived in Martha's Vineyard, for instance, were showered with food and donations, then taken to a well-equipped facility at a military base in Cape Cod. Do I think they were worse off than the folks sleeping on the streets in El Paso, Texas, surrounded by a community who is probably exhausted by their presence? No. Definitely not.

Still, I think there are a few things worth considering here:

1) Chicago, New York and Washington D.C. are all gigantic cities whose public services are already stretched thin — not just by large homeless populations and the reality of millions of people living in one place, but by the millions of unauthorized immigrants who already live there. Remember: Six in ten unauthorized migrants live in just 20 cities. D.C., Chicago, and New York already have three of the largest migrant populations on that list.

2) We now have hard proof that these migrants were misled. Yesterday, Popular Information published photos of the brochures given to migrants in order to get them to travel to Martha's Vineyard. They included claims that they would receive 8 months of cash assistance, job placement, shelter, food, and housing if they got on the plane. None of that was true. The brochures described benefits available specifically to refugees who had been authorized by the U.N. to live in the U.S.

3) We had reports that some of the migrants were left stranded thousands of miles away from court dates, or simply never got a chance to talk to an attorney or case worker before being put on a plane and sent north or east. This creates confusion.

4) Intent matters. What are DeSantis and Abbott trying to do? Is their goal to give the migrants a better shot at a job, a good life, citizenship, or asylum? Is that even their stated goal? Do you believe that's what they want? Do they even care? When you consider that the definition of cruelty contains “feeling no concern,” I think honestly reflecting on these questions gets you to a place where this policy veers into cruelty.

Again: I've said from the beginning that some migrants may end up better off. “Some very well may end up better off being sent to Washington D.C., New York or Chicago instead of staying in Texas, where resources are already strained and the welcome they get may be much less friendly,” I wrote in our first issue covering this.

I also said I don't mind this policy in theory. In fact, I like it. For the very reasons you laid out: Many border towns are overrun. Many migrants could use a new place to settle. And getting migrants moved around in an organized way, where we can keep track of them and ensure they show up for court, would be a good thing. But for all the reasons above, I still find what is happening here to be cruel.

Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

The groundwork is being laid for a challenge to Biden's student loan forgiveness. In our edition on the legality of forgiveness, we noted that Republicans will need to find a plaintiff to bring a legal challenge forward, and will also need to decide on a clear angle. GOP state attorneys general, conservative groups and federal lawmakers are now developing that strategy. They can't bring forward a legal challenge until the administration makes a formal move toward cancellation, but they are preparing for that moment. The Wall Street Journal has the story.


  • 96%. The percentage of U.S. adults 18-29 years old who own a smartphone.
  • 61%. The percentage of U.S. adults 65 and older who own a smartphone.
  • 50.2%-42.2%. Brian Kemp's (R) current lead over Stacey Abrams (D) in the Georgia race for governor.
  • 45.8%-44.2%. Herschel Walker's (R) current lead over Raphael Warnock (D) in the Georgia race for the Senate.
  • $41 trillion. The global wealth increase last year.

Have a nice day.

Carl Allamby had dreamed of being a doctor since he was a kid. The 51-year-old auto mechanic just made that dream a reality. Dr. Allamby opened his first auto shop at age 19, something he said he did out of necessity and desperation. He became a student at night while working his day job, and then enrolled at Ursuline College in Ohio when he was 34. Initially, he went for a business degree, but a few years later found himself in pre-med classes. For five years, he attended weekend, evening and early morning classes until he could start medical school. Seven years after finishing, he got his first job as an attending physician in an emergency room. Fox News has the remarkable tale.

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