Abortion Debate Begins in the Senate

Lindsey Graham riling up the base back home with abortion bill.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaks at the Christians United for Israel Washington Summit in Washington, Tuesday, July 23, 2013.
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Back home in South Carolina, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham is mounting a tough primary fight.

The outspoken senator known for his willingness to compromise with Democrats and berating fellow conservatives like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is scrambling to find a way to build back his conservative base at home.

[READ: Graham Challenger Lee Bright Aligns Himself With Ted Cruz, Rand Paul]

Moderation and negotiating might win you praise in Washington, but it can make for a primary nightmare in solidly Republican states like South Carolina where Graham has already attracted three GOP challengers.

In recent months, Graham has seen his approval rating plummet from 48 percent in February to 37 percent at the end of October.

Thursday Graham reached for a way to bolster his appeal back home and announced he'd lead a core social-conservative charge at the Capitol — a ban against late-term abortions.

"Amongst base Republican voters, he is just not very popular," says Dave Woodard, a Clemson University political science professor and expert on South Carolina politics. "He is trying to show that he is a mainline Republican senator they can trust for another term."

Graham introduced the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would make it illegal to terminate a pregnancy after 20 weeks unless the life of the mother is in danger or the woman was a victim of rape or incest. The bill's name has been a point of contention for scientists who are not settled on whether a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks of gestation.

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"At twenty weeks, mothers are encouraged to speak and sing as the baby can recognize the voice of the mother," Graham said in a statement about his legislation. "The question for the American people is, 'Should we be silent when it comes to protecting these unborn children entering the sixth month of pregnancy? Or is it incumbent on us to speak up and act on their behalf? I say we must speak up and act."

Similar legislation breezed through the House of Representatives in June when the GOP-controlled House voted 228 to 196 in favor of the bill and Graham has public opinion on his side.

Nearly 60 percent of Americans support banning abortions after 20 weeks, a Washington Post poll found in July. However, a Planned Parenthood poll showed in August that Americans are more open to late-term abortions in instances when the mother's or the fetus's life is in danger.

Graham's Democratic colleagues in the Senate blasted the South Carolina senator for his "blatantly political" bill.

"The drum beat of politically-driven, extreme, and unconstitutional laws continues to get louder," Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said on the Senate floor Thursday. "Apparently my colleagues on the other side of the aisle want to make some noise so their adoring audience of right-wing radio hosts, columnists, and activists are satisfied."

[MORE: Graham’s Hawkish Posture Confronts War Weary Voters in S.C.]

Sen. Barbara Boxer,, D-Calif., called it a "radical bill" and an "abortion ban."

Graham's bill would make abortions after 20 weeks illegal under federal law, but several states including Texas and Nebraska already have late-term abortion bans on the books.

The bill is not expected to be taken up in the Senate as a stand alone piece of legislation.

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