Governor Greg Abbott Says He'll Protect Rape and Incest Pregnancies

Mae A.

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Pro-abortion activists protesting Texas' strict abortion laws.Photo byPhoto by Gayatri Malhotra/Unsplash

Texas Governor Greg Abbott dashed hopes that he might revisit the state’s near-total ban against abortions to allow the procedure in cases of rape and incest, despite overwhelming support for the exceptions, according to an interview with the State of Texas news show which aired Sunday.

Correspondent Monica Madden asked the Governor twice whether he would propose a revision of the law to include exceptions for rape and incest. In his first response, Abbott deflected, saying that he would focus on "protecting the life of the mother." When Madden repeated her question adding that recent polls show that 80% of voters in the Republican stronghold support the exceptions, Abbott said “My focus is on protecting both the life of the mother as well as the life of the baby.”

This was Abbott’s first direct indication that he would not support adding rape and incest to the ban’s only exception. He has previously declined to definitively state his position or has commented that the state would work to "eliminate all rapists," and advised rape and incest victims to take emergency contraceptives.

Texas has one of the nation’s strictest abortion bans, Senate Bill 8, which Abbott signed into law in March 2021. It prohibits the procedure after six weeks – before most women know they’re pregnant – except when the mother’s life is at risk.

The interview with Abbott was conducted on the eve of his victory in the midterm elections but was not aired until Sunday when it was broadcast statewide.

Abbott secured a decisive 55%-44% win against his challenger, Democrat Beto O’Rourke, retaining his seat for a third term. O’Rourke had made abortion the cornerstone of his campaign, along with gun violence and school shootings.

Ahead of the elections, Republican candidates who were in tight races, and even staunchly conservative Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, said they would consider expanding the ban’s exceptions to include rape and incest when the Texas Legislature reconvenes in January. But without the Governor's support, any such move would likely fail.

Democrats dismissed the Republicans’ comments as campaign gimmicks, but the candidates' strategies were in line with several polls conducted last summer which surprisingly but consistently showed that voters in the Red state favored exceptions for rape, incest, and sometimes in cases of poverty. The polls were reviewed by The Texas Tribune.

In the interview, Abbott sought to assuage at least some fears and criticisms of the law, reiterating that he would suggest that the Legislature revise SB-8's language to clarify that medical providers should treat pregnant patients suffering from complications.

“There is a deep misunderstanding apparently about what it means to protect the life of the mother,” Abbott said. “There are some doctors who say that they don’t have the authority to treat things like ectopic pregnancies or miscarriages or infections or some other dangers that mothers are going through and I believe that’s unacceptable.”

“I’ll be keenly focused on … both clarifying and making sure that the state is doing everything we possibly can to protect the life of the mother,” he said.

But Abbott did not clarify whether such treatment would include terminating complicated pregnancies, nor did he say he would suggest that the Legislature consider allowing the treatment of lethal fetal abnormalities, a condition in which the fetus is not viable and perishes during pregnancy or shortly after.

As it stands, SB-8 has caused the medical community to deny or delay treatment and medications to women with pregnancy complications for fear of prosecution. The anti-abortion law allows private citizens to sue anyone who provides or assists in an abortion procedure for at least $10,000. That means doctors, nurses, clinic staff, transporters like Uber drivers, and friends who gift money or lodgings can all be sued by anyone, including strangers. Patients cannot be sued.

The interview also touched on whether Abbott would consider a presidential run in 2024. Asked whether he would complete his term as governor Abbott said, “I sure am. I’m committed to the great state of Texas.”

Good thing too, since a call-in poll to the popular political talk show What’s Your Point? which is beamed in Harris County and has a largely Republican following, had 96% of its callers against such a run.

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