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Some Republican candidates in short-ballot races are considering adding rape and incest exceptions to Texas’ near-total abortion ban. But the man who signed the ban into law – Governor Greg Abbott – has repeatedly declined to say whether he supports them.
In some battleground state legislative races, Republicans have said they are open to revising the ban to include the exceptions — and even expressed confidence that the Legislature will do so when it reconvenes. in January. This has drawn deep skepticism from their Democratic opponents, who run campaigns centered on abortion rights.
“I fully envision that we will come back and change the current bills and make them more reasonable,” State Rep. Steve Allison, R-San Antonio, said at a candidate forum earlier this month. , predicting that a proposal to add rape and incest exceptions would get a committee hearing.
State Rep. John Lujan, another Republican from San Antonio, said at a recent forum that he’s “almost certain” the next Legislature will consider such exceptions and that he’ll vote for such a bill. . Adam Hinojosa, a candidate for an open Senate seat in South Texas, called rape and incest “common sense exceptions that we can consider.” And Jamee Jolly, a candidate for an open seat in the State House in Collin County, suggested the need for a “conversation” in the upcoming session on exceptions.
Yet such statements are complicated by Abbott’s own reluctance to speak on the subject. He declined to say whether he supported adding such exceptions, saying only that he wanted to clarify the existing exception in the law to protect the life of the pregnant patient.
Any legislation that doesn’t have the governor’s support is unlikely to go far in the Legislative Assembly — he holds veto power and GOP majorities typically try to toe him on policy.
It’s not just battlefield candidates talking about the rape and incest exceptions. State House Speaker Dade Phelan and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who oversees the Senate, have discussed the possibility of dealing with exceptions in the next session, with Patrick predicting there will be “a lot of discussion “. And two GOP state senators have already expressed support for at least one rape exception.
For Democrats, Republican comments are empty pre-election speeches. They note that GOP candidates have already established anti-abortion records and are not proactively advocating exceptions, anyway.
“It’s incredibly disappointing that my opponent refuses to commit to fight for exemptions for rape, incest and mothers’ lives, while Texas is in the midst of a maternal mortality crisis,” said Jolly’s Democratic rival Mihaela. Plesa, in a statement. “We need a representative who will be strong in his convictions; not a representative who is only willing to have a conversation about an issue that impacts the lives of so many Texans.
As Plesa takes on Jolly, Democrat Frank Ramirez challenges Lujan, Democrat Morgan LaMantia takes on Hinojosa, and Democrat Becca DeFelice runs against Allison. All the Democratic candidates have placed the right to abortion at the heart of their electoral campaigns.
The Republican candidates declined to comment further to the Texas Tribune on their positions.
To be clear, the exceptions in question would do little to expand abortion access in Texas given the rarity for a woman to seek an abortion because of rape. A 2004 Guttmacher Institute study found that 1% of women who had an abortion said it was because they had been raped, while less than 0.5% attributed their decision to having been a victim of incest.
In states that allow such exceptions, the qualification process can be onerous, sometimes requiring a police report or medical certification. The vast majority of sexual assaults are never reported to the police; for people experiencing domestic violence, it can be difficult or dangerous to report to authorities.
At least 13 states have banned abortion in most cases since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and only a few have exceptions for rape or incest.
But the lack of exceptions has become the most discussed aspect of the abortion law ahead of the Nov. 8 election. Abbott’s Democratic opponent Beto O’Rourke hammered the governor on the lack of exceptions, calling it an extremist stance and often pointing to polls that show her to be deeply unpopular.
An Emerson College/The Hill poll released Monday found that two-thirds of likely voters in Texas support abortion is legal in cases of rape or incest.
The exceptions debate extends to non-competitive races – where he showed how Republicans risk alienating their own party. One GOP state senator, Robert Nichols, said he would support a rape exception, as did another, Senator Joan Huffman of Houston.
Nichols was the first to do so and then saw the anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life suspend its endorsement of his re-election campaign. Nichols did not return a request for comment at the time.
“The way politicians view the exceptions reveals whether they have a coherent ethical principle motivating their pro-life views, or whether it’s some kind of surface value,” the president said at the time. of Texas Right to Life, John Seago.
It would be a remarkable turnaround if the Legislative Assembly reviewed the abortion ban at its next meeting. Virtually all Republicans in the Legislative Assembly voted for Senate Bill 8, which banned nearly all abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy starting last fall, as well as House Bill 1280 , the “trigger” ban that went into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.
One of those Republicans, State Rep. Lyle Larson of San Antonio, changed his mind and later introduced a bill with rape and incest exceptions in SB 8, but he didn’t. garnered only four GOP co-sponsors and went nowhere. When Abbott was asked in a television interview if he would sign the bill, he replied that the question was “an assumption that won’t happen because this bill won’t reach my desk”.
Asked in recent media appearances about the rape and incest exceptions, Abbott was evasive.
Abbott said he was instead focused on clarifying the existing exception that allows abortions to protect the life of the pregnant patient. He expressed concern that some doctors refuse to deal with certain situations where the life of the pregnant patient is in danger.
“There are going to be things going all over the place with respect to different proposals, with respect to abortion, and we will see what happens,” Abbott said in an interview with Houston TV earlier this month, reiterating his interest. to “do more to protect the life of the mother.
“These are the kinds of laws I’m going to seek to push forward, and we’ll see where the others land.”