(WASHINGTON) — Senate Republicans on Thursday introduced legislation to ban abortion after 20-weeks, two days after Democrats declared abortion as key to their victory in the hotly contested Virginia governor race.
The controversial bill mirrors one passed in the House of Representatives in June and is part of a nation-wide push by Republicans lawmakers to implement prohibitions on abortion from the point at which they say a fetus can feel pain.
“If we can convince the American people to provide assistance and prevent abortions at the 20th week, nothing bad is going to happen,” said Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., who will introduce the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in the Senate. “Good things will happen; babies will be born that would not have made it otherwise.”
“And only God knows who they will grow up to be,” he added.
But Democrats vehemently oppose this bill and others like it.
Speaking on the Senate floor nearly simultaneously with a Republican press conference on the anti-abortion bill, Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., declares it was “going nowhere” in the Democratic controlled Senate.
“I think more than ever right now, after we emerge from a damaging and completely unnecessary government shutdown, the American people want us focused squarely on jobs and the economy,” Murray said. “But we are here today to make one thing abundantly clear: and that is that this extreme, unconstitutional abortion ban is an absolute non-starter.”
“It’s going nowhere in the Senate and Republicans know it,” she added.
In recent years 12 states have passed legislation that bans abortion at 20 weeks or fewer.
Conservative advocates aim to revisit the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which established a constitutional right to abortion before fetal viability — generally believed to be at 24 weeks.
“At 20 weeks the baby can feel pain,” Graham said. “And you can actually perform surgery on a child at 20 weeks.”
Abortion advocates dispute the claim that a fetus is capable of feeling pain by that point in the pregnancy.
Like the House-passed bill, the Senate bill includes an exception in the case of rape or incest, or if the mother’s life is endangered.
Graham acknowledged, however, that the legislation does not have the support to pass in the Senate and that its introduction in the Senate was delayed because some Republican lawmakers had concerns about its constitutionality.
“There was a debate among my Senate colleagues about the constitutional underpinnings of what we’re trying to do,” Graham said. “They couldn’t agree upon the constitutional theory.”
“I just said ‘Guys, let’s just focus on the baby,’” Graham added.
Graham is facing multiple primary challengers on his right, but he said that he has long been a supporter of anti-abortion legislation, and his support for this bill is unlikely to endear him to his political opponents.
“Whether or not I leave next June or at some later period will be up to the voters of South Carolina,” Graham said. “This is important to me; this is why I want to be a senator.”
“Will it wipe away all the other criticisms? No,” he added.
The two parties could not be farther apart on their views of where the public is on this issue.
Graham said the issue is “a winner” in the Senate as well as the House and he cites a majority of public support for a 20 week abortion ban in polling.
But Democrats believe that Terry McAuliffe’s victory in Virginia over anti-abortion Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli could be attributed largely to voters’ opposition to Cuccinelli’s views on abortion.
“When we looked at the abortion issue, the public was overwhelmingly on our side,” said McAuliffe’s campaign manager Robby Mook at an event with Planned Parenthood Thursday.
Indeed, anti-abortion conservative group the Susan B. Anthony List said on election night that Cuccinelli’s loss was due, in part, to the attacks launched at him by Democrats.
Both sides, however, believe that abortion will be a critical issue in the 2014 midterm elections.
“I think this will go quite frankly faster and it will probably be an issue in 2014 and 2016 too,” Graham said.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio