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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM/AP) – Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday, Sept. 7, defended a new state law banning most abortions that also does not provide exceptions for cases of rape or incest, saying it does not force victims to give birth even though it prohibits abortions before some women know they’re pregnant.
Gov. Abbott added Texas would strive to “eliminate all rapists from the streets” while taking questions during his first news conference since the law took effect last week.
The comments drew new criticism from opponents of the Texas law that is the biggest curb on abortion in the U.S. since they were legalized a half-century ago, prohibiting abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, which is usually around six weeks.
Though abortion providers in Texas say the law is unconstitutional, they say they are abiding by it.
“His comments are confusing to me because they certainly do not seem to reflect the realities of this law,” said Amy Jones, the chief executive officer of the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center.
Recent surveys by the U.S. Department of Justice found that most rapes go unreported to police, including a 2019 survey that found about 1 in 3 victims reporting they were raped or sexually assaulted.
Abbott signed the measure into law in May.
Although other GOP-led states have passed similar measures, they have been blocked by courts.
Texas’ version differs significantly because it solely leaves enforcement to private citizens who can sue abortion providers who violate the law.
Abbott was asked about the new abortion restrictions while signing into law an overhaul of Texas’ election rules.
“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,” Abbott said.
Jones said Abbott’s statements were both confusing and disheartening.
She said she’d “like to hear more” from Abbott on his statement on eliminating rape.
“Certainly it is in our mission statement to work to end sexual violence, that is why we exist, but we are also very aware that that is an aspirational goal that yes, we do believe that this is a preventable crime, but it if it were that easy, rape would no longer exist,” Jones said.
Sarah Mitchell, the founder of Moms Demand Action – Collin County and ELF Army of Light, a nonprofit which deals with pregnancy loss and infant death, said, “I would ask him number one, when does he think an egg gets fertilized? Number two, when does he think a woman has the best chance of finding out that she’s pregnant? And number three what does he actually think of the state’s backlog of rape kits or the fact that we have known rapist, convicted rapists, that aren’t going to jail.”
The Texas Department of Public Safety reports in 2019 there were more than 14,000 cases of rape in the state, making up nearly a quarter of all reported violent crimes.
That same year fewer than 4,000 people were arrested for rape or other sex offenses.
“Great you say that you want to get rid of rape, wonderful,” said Mitchell. How, how are you possibly going to do that?”
The new law does prevent convicted rapist from filing suits against their victims and on Tuesday, Gov. Abbott said he also wants to make sure that the state provides support for victims of rape.
“And we have organizations that we as a state support that others support to make sure that anybody who is victimized will get the support they need,” he said.
The Justice Department has said it will not tolerate violence against anyone who is trying to obtain an abortion in Texas as federal officials explore options to challenge the law.
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
Erin Jones contributed to this report.
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