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Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, says a robust national debate on abortion is vital for moving America forward. Toward that end, she proposes a 15-week federal ban as a minimum limitation on the procedure.
Beyond that, state legislatures would be free to further restrict abortion based on the will of the people.
“What’s important, at both the federal and state level, those are elected officials making the decision, who are elected by the American people, rather than radical judges, who, frankly took the voice away from the American people,” Stefanik said referring to the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision and the 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, which overturned it.
“We rightly have that [voice] back,” Stefanik told attendees at a June 20 event at the National Press Club in Washington.
Stefanik also favors exceptions to the national ban for cases involving rape, incest, or a threat to the life of the mother, along with federal support for families, including the child tax credit, childcare subsidies, and other measures.
Stefanik’s proposal lands in a political and social environment fraught with deep emotion and even violence, one year after Dobbs returned the matter of abortion to state legislatures for the first time in 50 years.
After Roe v. Wade, abortion was considered a constitutional right. While state legislatures were able to place some restrictions on the procedure, they could not outlaw it.
Following the Dobbs decision, the abortion landscape changed virtually overnight. Some states had laws in place that took effect immediately and prohibited abortion with very few exceptions.
Other states moved quickly to pass new abortion restrictions. More than 100 bills restricting abortion were introduced in state legislatures.
Other states aimed to clarify that abortion either was, or was not, a protected right under their state’s constitution. Ballot initiatives codifying a right to abortion passed in California, Michigan, and Vermont. Initiatives to the contrary failed in the normally conservative states of Kansas and Kentucky. A Montana law requiring physicians to give life-saving care to survivors of an abortion procedure was rejected by voters.
The result is a checkerboard of abortion legislation in which the procedure is largely illegal in some 14 states, highly restricted in others, and enshrined as a right in still others.
At the same time, crimes against both abortion clinics and pro-life pregnancy care centers and churches increased following the Dobbs decision.
Given the possibility of reshaping the abortion map in the post-Dobbs era, a number of political figures have played to their base, burnishing their pro-life or pro-choice credentials.
Among presidential candidates, President Joe Biden, a practicing Catholic, has vocally supported abortion as a right.
Former Vice President Mike Pence has called himself “unapologetically pro-life” and has said that ending abortion is a primary goal. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed into law a ban on the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy.
Some other candidates have been reluctant to state a definitive position on the subject, perhaps believing that the national mood has not yet settled.
Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said during a televised interview that because neither party has enough votes to pass a federal abortion law, it would be “unrealistic” and divisive to discuss the matter.
Former President Donald Trump would not directly state whether or not he would sign a federal abortion ban, telling a town-hall audience on May 10, “We want to do what’s right for everybody.”
Trump later referred to Florida’s six-week ban as “too harsh.”
Moment of Opportunity
Stefanik sees the post-Dobbs crisis as a moment of opportunity.
“While those in the media want to portray Americans as viscerally divided on this issue, I believe there is far more consensus than the media would like to admit,” Stefanik said, pointing to a Harvard-Harris poll indicating that 72 percent of voters, including 60 percent of Democrats, would support an abortion ban at the 15th week of pregnancy.
The finding is consistent with a Gallup poll conducted in May, which shows that 69 percent of Americans believe abortion should be allowed in the first trimester of pregnancy, but only 37 percent would allow it in the second trimester and 22 percent in the third.
“Protecting life and defending the unborn are not extreme positions,” Stefanik said. “They are fundamental to human rights and the American dream.”
“It is Democrats in Congress and in state governments, along with the Biden administration, who are wildly out of step with the values of the American people,” she added.
By proposing a 15-week federal ban on abortion with some exceptions, Stefanik, who has a reputation for bipartisanship, plays to the broad middle of the American public. By leaving states the option to impose greater restrictions on the procedure, the idea maintains the possibility of further progress for the pro-life agenda.
“I truly believe that the Supreme Court entrusted all of us with the responsibility of taking an important and deeply personal issue and building consensus to provide every child, mother, family, and especially the unborn children, this truly precious and sacred opportunity at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Stefanik said.
More than 50 abortion-related bills are now pending in Congress.
Janice Hisle contributed to this report.