'Magical thinking': Gov. Abbott says he will 'eliminate all rapists,' defends Texas abortion law
AUSTIN, Texas — Gov. Greg Abbott, responding to a question about how Texas' new abortion law would impact victims of rape and incest, said the state would employ aggressive tactics to "eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas."
The law, which took effect last week, bans most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. It does not include exceptions for victims of rape or incest, a caveat often included in abortion restrictions.
“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,” Abbott said Tuesday, responding to a question from a reporter after he signed the divisive GOP elections bill into law.
Abbott said the law does not force victims of rape or incest to carry a pregnancy to term, but rather "provides at least six weeks for a person to be able to get an abortion."
Abbott faced immediate blowback for his comments, including from one of his Republican challengers who said it was "disgusting" to see Abbott "advocating for women to get abortions."
“The pro-life response should always be to acknowledge the human value of all unborn children, and today (Abbott) fell short of that very clear standard," the challenger, former state Sen. Don Huffines, said in a statement.
But the bulk of criticism came from opponents of the ban, who said Abbott's promise was not rooted in reality and he hasn't shown that the issue is a priority.
"NEWSFLASH: Rape has been a crime in TX and it still hasn't been eliminated," state Rep. Jasmine Crockett, a Dallas Democrat, said in a tweet. "There is no magic wand to eliminate any crime!"
U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, D-Texas, told MSNBC on Tuesday that she would "love to see Texas address violence against women," but that the abortion legislation doesn't address it.
"It’s kind of this magical thinking that’s typical of his approach to governing, that he’ll give an answer that is really untethered to the reality of what he’s doing," she said. "We know that Texas, unfortunately, has not been making this its top priority."
In 2019, sexual assaults reported in the state occurred most frequently in homes and a majority of victims were known to the offender before the assault, according to the latest available data from the Texas Department of Public Safety.
That same year, there were 14,656 rapes and attempted rapes reported across the state, resulting in 2,210 arrests.
But studies show that the majority of rape victims rarely report the crime to authorities. In Texas, an estimated 9.2% of victims report sexual violence to law enforcement, according to a 2015 study from the University of Texas' Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
"People who experience sexual assault do not report to law enforcement for a variety of reasons," Noël Busch-Armendariz, director of the institute, told the American-Statesman. "Trauma and the impact of immediate trauma and post trauma plays a big role in reporting or a decision to not report."
Even when victims do report rape to the authorities, there can be delays in processing evidence. Texas has long struggled to confront its backlog of untested rape kits, evidence collected during a sexual assault forensic exam that could include DNA used to identify an offender.
In 2017, the state had 18,955 backlogged kits that had yet to be tested, and Abbott said reducing the backlog would be a priority for his administration. In the years since, the state has spent millions of dollars on testing these kits and adopted new requirements aimed at improving oversight and ensuring new kits were being tested at the same time as law enforcement tackled the backlog.
Of the 2017 backlog, 2,138 kits have yet to be tested, according to End The Backlog, a national nonprofit that advocates for states to adopt certain reforms to reduce backlogs of untested kits.
The organization said Texas was the first state in the country to adopt all six of their recommended reforms, which include: annual inventories of untested kits; a commitment to testing backlogged kits and testing new kits immediately; giving victims access to information about the status of their kit; establishing a system for tracking kits; and funding the reforms.
Abbott's office did not return a request for information about how he planned to carry out his promise to "eliminate all rapists."
"Maybe Governor Abbott should have eliminated rape and incest BEFORE passing an abortion law that didn't have an exception for rape and incest?" state Rep. Gene Wu, a Houston Democrat, said in a tweet Wednesday.
He followed that tweet with another: "Just a reminder — (Texas Republicans): PASSED a law putting a $10,000 bounty on people who help victims of rape with an abortion. DID NOT put a $10,000 bounty on RAPISTS."
Texas' abortion law does not allow public officials to enforce the ban and instead allows any private individual to sue abortion providers, staff at clinics or someone who drives a patient to receive their procedure — anyone who could be seen as aiding and abetting an abortion in violation of the law.
If these private individuals are successful in a lawsuit, they can collect at least $10,000 in damages from the defendant, plus a reimbursement of legal fees.
The Biden administration also criticized Abbott for his remarks.
“If Gov. Abbott has a means of eliminating all rapists or all rape from the United States then there would be bipartisan support for that," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during a briefing.
Some Republicans came to the bill's defense Wednesday, including state Rep. Matt Schaefer, a Tyler Republican. He responded to Crockett's tweet and said: "Is it humane to kill an innocent person because of the violent crime of another person?"
(Statesman staff writer Amanda O'Donnell contributed to this report.)