By Gromer Jeffers Jr.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said this week that although the state’s abortion ban makes no exception for rape or incest, victims of these crimes can take emergency contraception and call the police.
“We want to support those victims, but also those victims can access health care immediately, as well as to report it,” Abbott said during a segment that will air Sunday on Lone Star Politics, a show produced by KXAS-TV (NBC 5) and The Dallas Morning News. “By accessing health care immediately, they can get the Plan B pill that can prevent a pregnancy from occurring in the first place. With regard to reporting it to law enforcement, that will ensure that the rapist will be arrested and prosecuted.”
Democratic nominee for governor Beto O’Rourke’s campaign criticized Abbott’s comments and his record on crime.
“Greg Abbott signed the most extreme abortion ban in the nation with no exception for rape or incest,” O’Rourke campaign spokesman Chris Evans said. “Meanwhile, Texas leads the nation in rape offenses on his watch, and the arrest rate for rape has fallen by nearly half since he took office as he allows over 3,000 untested rape kits to collect dust in his state crime labs.”
Texas does have a rape kit testing backlog and led the nation in rape offenses in 2020, but Alaska and other states had more rapes per capita. Experts also note that clearance rates on all major crimes have been declining for years.
In the past Abbott has said he would help victims by “eliminating rape in Texas.” During the interview this week, he reiterated the need to stop such crimes.
“We support and have an obligation to aid victims of rape and incest, and we as a state, we should all agree that it’s something that we need to work toward ending,” he said.
Experts, however, point to Department of Justice statistics that show the difficulty in arresting and prosecuting perpetrators of sexual assault, and to the reasons the crimes are less likely to be reported.
Health care advocates also say Abbott’s call for rape victims to rely on the Plan B pill is flawed.
Many women who suffer such trauma don’t immediately realize they could be pregnant, and victims who want to use Plan B may not be able to access the medication, which has been in demand since the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade in June.
Advocates are also concerned that the decision could lead to a ban on contraceptives. In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas said the court should reconsider other past rulings, including one codifying the right to contraception access.
Julie Ross, a longtime health care advocate from Dallas, said some doctors may not want to discuss Plan B with patients for fear of breaking the new Texas law. She added that Abbott’s refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which requires insurance companies to cover women’s contraceptives, could result in Plan B not being available to low-income patients.
“There’s so many false assumptions baked into that statement, including their presumptions on when pregnancy awareness occurs and what health care options are available to pregnant people” Ross said of Abbott’s remarks. “Sometimes a pregnant person doesn’t even know they’re pregnant.”
When asked directly about exceptions for rape and incest not being part of Texas’ abortion ban, Abbott said, “That was voted on, both during the regular and during the special session.”
Throughout the campaign, O’Rourke and Abbott have sparred over the abortion issue.
Abbott criticized his challenger during the Lone Star Politics interview, saying O’Rourke stands for “abortion on demand at taxpayer expense.”
“When the public learns about Beto’s position on abortion, they will be repelled by it,” Abbott said. “He not only believes in abortion to the very last minute before a fully developed child is given birth, but he was even against a law that would require a doctor to provide medical care to a baby who survives abortion. That’s appalling.”
Evans, the O’Rourke campaign spokesman, said Abbott’s characterization of his abortion stance is not true.
“Like the vast majority of Texans, Beto has long supported the standard set by Roe v. Wade, which for half a century prohibited states from outlawing abortion in cases where the pregnancy threatened the life of the pregnant woman,” Evans said. “That standard allowed for women and their doctors to make this personal and often painful decision later in the pregnancy if the abortion was necessary to save the woman’s life.”
Since enacting Senate Bill 8 last year, which effectively banned abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, Texas has been at the center of the debate over reproductive rights.
Most Texas conservatives have stood firm in supporting anti-abortion laws, pointing out alternatives for women who don’t want to keep their children, such as adoption.
“Texas is leading the way with regard to alternatives for abortion,” Abbott said Thursday. “It’s an all-time record high and it’s grown 800% since I’ve been governor.”
He continued: “We want to make adoptions easier and cheaper. We’ve added funding for things like prenatal care, postpartum care for women. The Women’s Health program today has more money in it than ever before and Texas leads the nation with regard to crisis pregnancy centers that will provide care and treatment for pregnant women, so Texas is stepping up and doing more than any state to help out pregnant women.”
However, a Texas plan to extend Medicaid coverage for new mothers will likely be rejected by the federal government, state lawmakers say, because the benefits are too restrictive. Women who terminate their pregnancies, even in medical emergencies, are ineligible for the extra months of health insurance under the law.
Advocates say coverage shouldn’t be dependent on how a pregnancy ends, and they worry that Texas’ abortion ban will discourage women from being honest about their health status.
Abbott said a goal of his campaign is to clarify Texas procedures related to curbing abortions.
“We need to provide more clarity of what we are doing to protect the life of the mother,” he said. “There seems to be ambiguity out there about protecting the life of the mother. That’s of paramount importance, whether it be what’s called an ectopic pregnancy, or it could be some other issues that mothers are having. Doctors need to be aware of all the different things they can do to save the life of the mother.”
According to a recent study by Parkland Health and UT Southwestern Medical Center, Texas abortion restrictions required doctors to delay abortions until women developed complications that posed an “immediate threat” to their lives. The doctors estimated the wait made women twice as likely to suffer serious health problems, such as infections or the need for a blood transfusion.
Lone Star Politics airs at 8:30 a.m. Sunday on NBC 5.