Texas abortion ban: Abbot’s vow to “eliminate rapists” sounds hollow

Gov. Greg Abbott defended the lack of a rape exception in Texas’ abortion law with a powerful pledge. A year later, resource centers say the numbers have remained high.

AUSTIN, Texas — When Texas’ new abortion law made no exceptions in cases of rape, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott defended it with an assurance: Texas would go to work to eliminate rape.

A year later, Lindsey LeBlanc is busy helping rape victims in a college town outside of Houston.

“The numbers have stayed consistently high,” said LeBlanc, executive director of the Sexual Assault Resource Center in Bryan, near Texas A&M University. Despite hiring two additional counselors in the past six months, she still has a victim waiting list.

“We’re struggling to keep up with demand,” she said.

The steady case count in Texas is another example of how Republicans have struggled to unequivocally defend abortion bans that have been unpopular in public polls, have caused uproar in high-profile cases and invite political risk in the November midterm elections. A year after Texas law went into effect in September 2021, at least a dozen states also have bans in place, with no exceptions for rape or incest.

RELATED: Poll: Majority in US wants legal abortion nationally

The lack of exceptions has caused divisions among Republicans, including in West Virginia, where a new law signed this month allows a short window for rape and incest victims Abortions only if they report to law enforcement first. Recently Republican from South Carolina scuttled a planned ban after failing to get enough GOP support.

“It really disgusts me,” said South Carolina Republican Senator Katrina Shealy, tugging at her male Senator colleague.

Republican US Senator Lindsey Graham, also from South Carolina, allowed exceptions under the proposed national abortion ban he introduced last week. The proposal has virtually no chance of passing as even GOP leaders are not immediately backing it, reflecting how Republicans across the board have struggled to settle the issue of abortion with voters since the U.S. Supreme Court this summer Roe v. Wade fell.

RELATED: Lindsey Graham proposes nationwide 15-week abortion ban

An overwhelming majority of voters believe that their state should generally allow abortion in certain cases, including rape, incest, or when the health of the pregnant person is at risk. Even Republicans see it as a line with some voters.

“It’s a very gray subject,” said Claudia Alcazar, the GOP chairwoman in Starr County along the Texas-Mexico border, which has become one new political battlefield after Republicans made big gains with more conservative Hispanic voters in 2020.

She said she knows those who are “hardcore, never abort for any reason, period. And then I have the others who are like, ‘Well, you know, it depends.’”

In Texas, the setback came quickly as Abbott said last September: “Texas will work tirelessly to make sure we eliminate all rapists from the streets.” Critics called it unrealistic. A sexual assault hotline in Houston has received nearly 4,800 calls through August this year — on track to surpass last year’s volume of 4,843.

As of this summer, all abortions in Texas are banned unless they would save a mother’s life.

When asked what Abbott has done over the past year to eliminate rape, spokeswoman Renae Eze highlighted older actions to clear backlogs of rape testing kits, a sexual assault resource coordination and expansion bill signed in June, and a task force which his office launched in 2019 the matter.

“To prevent such heinous crimes before they happen and to prosecute all criminals to the fullest extent of the law, Governor Abbott has aggressively campaigned against police defunding and led bail reform efforts to prevent the release of dangerous criminals ‘ Eze said in a statement.

More than 14,000 rape crimes have been reported in Texas since the law went into effect last year, according to data from the Texas Department of Public Safety. That was a slight decrease from the previous year and was consistent with decreases in other violent crime numbers statewide.

Response centers in Texas say the number of rape victims who have accompanied them to hospitals for check-ups has risen again since pandemic restrictions barred lawyers from entering. The Fort Worth Women’s Center made more than 650 visits last year to counsel victims undergoing exams, compared with about 340 a year earlier, said Alisha Mathenia, the center’s deputy director of crisis services.

The majority of sexual assaults are never reported to the police, giving an incomplete picture with all available data. And about 8 out of 10 sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.

“We’re not talking about a large number of rapists walking the streets. That’s a myth,” said Democrat Donna Howard, an Austin state representative who co-authored the bill creating Abbott’s task force.

At The SAFE Alliance in Austin, where victims of sexual assault can get evaluations and medical care at their Eloise Home, Executive Director Juliana Gonzales said it’s admirable that Texas is working on rape prevention. “But I also think it’s important for the state to live in the reality that we have to respond to sexual assault,” she said.

https://www.kvue.com/article/news/nation-world/texas-abortion-no-rape-exceptions/507-5f85eef8-4517-4217-a2fe-a191ed3420db Texas abortion ban: Abbot’s vow to “eliminate rapists” sounds hollow

Laura Coffey

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