Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) has panned Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for his disingenuous claims about preventing sexual assault made while defending the state’s dangerous abortion ban this week.
As Texas’s abortion ban has faced fierce criticism from a multitude of angles over the past weeks, Abbott has doubled down on a dubious defense: he will supposedly work to end sexual assault in the state by “eliminat[ing] all rapists,” incarcerating them instead.
Aside from the obvious paradox of this statement — how could the government punish an assailant before they assault someone? — critics have pointed out that the sentiment isn’t actually genuine. Abbott doesn’t want to end sexual assault, critics say, and if he did, he would take actual steps to address rape culture.
“If Gov. Abbott is as ‘anti-rape’ as he claims, why doesn’t he just lead the Texas state legislature to pass a law for $10k bounties on people who engage in or aid sexual assault?” wrote Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter — a likely dig at the “bounty hunter” aspect of the new anti-abortion law the governor just signed. “Or is he opposed to that because it’s a slippery slope of vigilantism where men could be unjustly targeted?”
The so-called “bounty hunter” system that allows any private citizen to sue anyone who aids a person in getting an abortion and win a reward of $10,000 or more is exceptionally cruel, as critics have pointed out. It not only creates a massive chilling effect on abortion providers in the state, but also encourages harassment and sets a dangerous precedent of vigilantism, as Ocasio-Cortez pointed out.
Bounty hunting as a practice has a grim, dark history in the U.S., having been used to abduct Black people into slavery and, in modern times, used to terrorize people who cannot afford to pay off bail bonds. Companies that bounty hunt make millions while causing untold suffering to their targets and their families.
As critics of the abortion ban have pointed out, Texas’s abortion ban will likely disproportionately affect non-white, LGBTQ and poor people, who may lack the resources to travel out of state to obtain an abortion. The disproportionate effect of the law hearkens back, then, to bounty hunting’s racist and discriminatory roots.
Such a system for enforcing any law only enhances the carceral state. Though the Texas law doesn’t directly incriminate abortion providers or people who aid someone seeking an abortion, it creates punitive measures for these individuals. It adds to, rather than eliminates, rape culture, which is one of the reasons a person may seek an abortion in the first place.
Abortions should not be subject to punitive measures to begin with, and the negative stigma around what is clearly a medical procedure created by anti-choice groups is part of what has led the U.S. down this sordid path. The Texas abortion ban is extremely restrictive, not allowing even victims of rape or incest to be exempted from the law, which makes it particularly inhumane. Not that there should be any shame — or for that matter, a prohibitive law — associated with seeking an abortion for any reason in the first place, abortion rights activists point out.
“Still thinking about how Gov. Abbott’s message to survivors terrified of the bounties now on their heads is ‘I will end rape.’ No, he won’t. He and the GOP just gave abusers & coercive partners a powerful new tool to intimidate victims,” wrote Ocasio-Cortez on Thursday. “These GOP laws HELP abusers, not stop them.”
“By allowing any person to financially destroy pregnant people on a whim, they knowingly handed over the keys of manipulation & control to people most likely to use it,” she continued. “Don’t let them feign ignorance about this. They know exactly what they’re doing. This is about fear & control.”
The New York lawmaker also wrote that the real reason Republicans are seeking to outlaw abortion is their desire to take away people’s body autonomy.
“Sexual assault is an abuse of power that attempts to seize sexual control over another person’s body,” wrote Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter. “Anti-choice laws are also an abuse of power that attempts to seize sexual control over people’s bodies en masse. And that’s one way rape culture informs anti-choice legislation.”
“It’s not a coincidence that Texas is where GOP are testing new ways to retake sexual control via legislation,” Ocasio-Cortez continued. “Texas had ‘anti-sodomy’ laws in place until 2003 (!) that made non-PIV sex illegal until the Supreme Court overturned it on the basis of Roe v. Wade’s right to privacy.”