Republican frustration with the supreme court decision which on Friday blocked restrictions on a widely used abortion pill spilled into public on Sunday, as the South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham lost his cool in a television interview when challenged on his flip-flopping position.
Graham, who last September proposed a national 15-week abortion ban only a month after insisting it was an issue for states to decide, became angry on CNN’s State of the Union, deflecting questions with false claims Democrats wanted a law allowing abortions until birth on demand.
The flustered senator accused his interviewer, Dana Bash, of covering for opponents he said wanted to see “barbaric” late-term abortions “out of line with the rest of the civilised world” and commonplace, he said, only in China and North Korea.
“No, no, no, you [in the] media keep covering for these guys,” Graham shouted. “They introduced legislation that allowed abortion on demand with taxpayer funds to the moment of birth, that’s the law they want to pass and nobody in your business will talk about it.”
Bash replied she was covering for nobody and had frequently challenged Democrats on the issue.
The official position of the Democratic party is to codify federal protections for abortion, guaranteed by the Roe v Wade decision of 1973 until overturned by the supreme court last year, that permitted the procedure until “fetal viability”, generally accepted to be at about 24 weeks’ gestation.
The spectacle of Graham’s anger underscored how Republicans are struggling to find a cohesive response to Friday’s ruling over the abortion pill mifepristone and on abortion in general.
Many analysts and party members believe the issue cost votes in last year’s midterms, following the supreme court Dobbs v Jackson ruling that overturned Roe v Wade.
Moves by several Republican-led states to tighten abortion restrictions, including the signing by the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, of the nation’s most extreme ban, at six weeks, have prompted voter backlash. Polling shows three in five Americans approve of abortion access in most or all cases.
On ABC’s This Week, the South Carolina Republican congresswoman Nancy Mace said the court was right to block restrictions last month placed on mifepristone by a Texas judge appointed by Donald Trump.
“This was a hand-picked case with a hand-picked judge to get this outcome,” she said. “And when you look at the ruling in Texas, in part at least, it used a law that the supreme court in 1983 said was unconstitutional.
“So the basis for his ruling, I argue, was debunked and it should not have been.”
Mace, who has spoken of being raped as a teenager, said the approach of her party to the wider issue was too rigid, and colleagues needed to show more sympathy and compassion for victims of rape who found it difficult or impossible to obtain an abortion.
“I want us to find some middle ground,” she said. “As a Republican and conservative, a constitutional conservative who’s pro-life, I saw what happened after Roe v Wade [fell] … I saw the sentiment change dramatically.
“As Republicans, we need to read the room because the vast majority of folks are not in the extremes. We just saw a fetal heartbeat bill signed in the dead of night in Florida. In my home state a very small group of state legislators filed a bill that would execute women who have abortions and gave more rights to rapists than women who have been raped.
“That is the wrong message heading into 2024. We’re going to lose huge if we continue down this path of extremities. It hurt us in the midterms. We actually lost seats. We’ve buried our heads in the sand. We want to go to the extreme corners of this issue, but that’s not where the vast majority of Americans are right now.”
Amy Klobuchar, a Democratic senator for Minnesota and a leading voice for abortion rights, also hailed the mifepristone decision.
“Senator Graham knows where the American people are on this,” she told CNN. “They are with Democratic leaders, and the people of this country believe that the women of this country should be able to make their own decisions about their healthcare and not politicians.”
Klobuchar also attacked the legal arguments advanced by those seeking to ban mifepristone, which in part relied on the 150-year-old Comstock Act prohibiting the mailing of contraceptives, “lewd” writings and any “instrument, substance, drug, medicine, or thing” that could be used in an abortion.
The law has not been enforced since the 1930s, according to NPR.
“It was literally passed in 1873,” Klobuchar said. “That is 10 years before the Yellowstone prequel, at a time when we were treated for pneumonia through bloodletting, back in the age of the Pony Express.
“The American people do not want to go backwards. And what I heard today is that Republican leaders in Washington aren’t backing down on their opposition to reproductive freedom. They are doubling down.”
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