Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is facing stark criticism, including from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), over recent comments he made defending his state’s highly restrictive abortion law. The newly passed law — which is in clear violation of the human right to health care — does not even make exceptions for access to abortion beyond the six-week period in the case of rape or incest, as many on social media have noted.
“Abortion should be free and accessible to anyone who wants one for any reason,” said author Lauren Hough. “If you have to list rape and incest to make your point, you’ve already lost. Abortion is healthcare.”
Organizer Kim Moore expressed a similar viewpoint.
“Framing your support of abortion solely around victims of rape and incest is ……. it’s something,” Moore wrote on Twitter. “People deserve the right to make their own reproductive decisions. Period.”
Abbott suggested on Tuesday that his state’s ban on the medical procedure after six weeks of gestation was not problematic for women because they had those six weeks after a sexual assault to decide what to do — ignoring the fact that, for many, six weeks is not enough time to know if one is pregnant or not.
A reporter asked Abbott how he could justify forcing a person to “carry a pregnancy to term” if they have been raped or been the victim of incest since the state’s new law didn’t carve out those exceptions. Abbott disregarded those concerns and wrongly implied that they were still protected.
“It doesn’t require that at all because, obviously, it provides at least six weeks for a person to be able to get an abortion” if they’re a victim of a sexual assault, he said.
But, Abbott added, the state would seek to stop rapes from happening.
“Let’s make something very clear. Rape is a crime, and 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 and getting them off the streets,” he said.
Not only is the statement absurd at face value in the context of sexual assault, but claiming an intent to “eliminate all rapists” is seriously misleading. As Philip Bump pointed out in The Washington Post, “prosecuting a rapist does not prevent a rape.”
“After-the-fact legal actions are of course important,” Bump added, “but even a successful effort to arrest everyone who has committed rape in Texas does not prevent a new rape from occurring.”
Abbott’s words are also racist dog whistles, as noted writer and human rights activist Leah McElrath pointed out.
“When people like Abbott talk about ‘eliminating’ rape, they’re talking about narrowing its definition to rape by strangers accompanied by violence. They’re telegraphing an intent to fear-monger about non-white men as sexual predators vis a vis white women,” McElrath wrote on Twitter. “That’s what’s ahead.”
Countering Abbott’s comments while appearing on CNN Tuesday night, Ocasio-Cortez blasted the Texas governor for speaking “from such a place of deep ignorance” on the issue. Victims of rape, she rightly pointed out, are not always aware that they’re pregnant after just six weeks.
“I’m sorry we have to break down biology 101 on national television, but in case no one has informed him before in his life, six weeks pregnant means two weeks late for your period,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “And two weeks late on your period for any person, any person with a menstrual cycle, can happen if you’re stressed, if your diet changes, or for really no reason at all. So, you don’t have six weeks.”
The New York congresswoman also noted that Abbott’s words disregarded a critical point: that prosecuting rapists won’t stop offenders who are close to or know their victims.
Indeed, as the national anti-sexual violence organization RAINN has documented, 8 out of 10 rapes are perpetrated by a person known to the victim.
“These aren’t just predators that are walking around the streets at night. They are people’s uncles. They are teachers, They are family friends and when something like that happens it takes a very long time, first of all, for any victim to come forward,” Ocasio-Cortez said.