Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday defended a new state law banning most abortions that also does not provide exceptions for cases of rape or incest, saying it does not force victims to give birth even though it prohibits abortions before some women know they’re pregnant.
Abbott, a Republican, was asked about the abortion law during a question and answer period after signing the state's new voting law on Tuesday. Abbott said that Texas would strive to “eliminate all rapists from the streets” while taking questions during his first press conference since the law took effect last week.
The comments drew new criticism from opponents of the Texas law that is the biggest curb on abortion in the U.S. since they were legalized a half-century ago, prohibiting abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, which is usually around six weeks. Though abortion providers in Texas say the law is unconstitutional, they say they are abiding by it.
“His comments are confusing to me because they certainly do not seem to reflect the realities of this law,” said Amy Jones, the chief executive officer of the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center.
Recent surveys by the U.S. Department of Justice found that most rapes go unreported to police, including a 2019 survey that found about 1 in 3 victims reporting they were raped or sexually assaulted.
Abbott signed the measure into law in May. Although other GOP-led states have passed similar measures, they have been blocked by courts. Texas’ version differs significantly because it solely leaves enforcement to private citizens who can sue abortion providers who violate the law.
Abbott was asked about the new abortion restrictions while signing into law an overhaul of Texas’ election rules.
“Texas will work tirelessly to make sure that we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas by aggressively going out and arresting them and prosecuting them,” Abbott said.
To arrest and prosecute someone for a crime, the crime must already have occurred, of course. So the governor's statement does little to address the concerns that a victim of sexual violence may have about her options should she learn after the six-week mark that she was pregnant.
Jones said Abbott’s statements were both confusing and disheartening. She said she’d “like to hear more” from Abbott on his statement on eliminating rape.
“Certainly it is in our mission statement to work to end sexual violence, that is why we exist, but we are also very aware that that is an aspirational goal that yes, we do believe that this is a preventable crime, but it if it were that easy, rape would no longer exist,” Jones said.
The Justice Department has said it will not tolerate violence against anyone who is trying to obtain an abortion in Texas as federal officials explore options to challenge the law.