AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott weighed in on a burning question related to the state’s recently-implemented law banning abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected: what about victims of rape?
During a Tuesday press conference, Abbott said the law gives rape victims up to six weeks to get an abortion and thus “does not do that [force victims to have their assaulter’s child].”
The state of Texas has taken a national beating for the passage of Senate Bill 8, which went into effect Sept. 1. Under the law, abortions cannot be performed once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can happen as soon as six weeks, before many women know they’re pregnant.
SB 8 also allows private citizens to sue abortion providers or anyone who helps someone get an abortion. Some critics say this would essentially put a bounty on people’s heads and encourage frivolous lawsuits. Citizens can be sued for $10,000 or more if an abortion is performed outside of the six-week period.
SB 8 has been widely condemned nationally, with President Joe Biden calling it “unconstitutional chaos,” and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland promising the U.S. Department of Justice would protect those seeking abortions while it urgently works to protect access to abortion.
Despite the outcry, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the law to stand last week after a group of Texas abortion clinics and advocates requested the law be blocked. SCOTUS could still make a move soon.
On Tuesday, Abbott said Texas will also provide support for sexual assault victims through state organizations.
Outraged protesters are still in awe women will have only have a few weeks to get an abortion, no matter the circumstances.
“It’s honestly sickening,” one protestor on the University of Texas at Austin campus said Tuesday.
For a lot of people speaking out, it’s personal.
“I was raped by my abusive boyfriend while I was asleep,” a UT student, who doesn’t want her name published, said. “I have a condition where my uterus is deformed and giving birth could potentially kill me.”
With loud voices trying to reach Abbott, he’s still backing the bill, even when asked why there was no exception for victims of rape.
“Let’s be clear: rape is a crime,” Abbott said. “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.”
Michelle Tuegel, a lawyer who’s suing the state on behalf of sexual assault survivors, says in her experience, cases last longer than six weeks and are rarely successful.
“Ninety-something percent of my cases are sexual abuse and assault cases, probably somewhere between 70 to 80% of them, there’s no criminal prosecution, despite our efforts,” Tuegel said.
Hays County District Attorney Wes Mau said many rape cases don’t make it to trial.
“A lot of times you know the cases do come down to who do you believe,” Mau said. “When the cases go to trial, they do result in a conviction more often than not. But that is by no means saying that we convict most people who are charged with this crime.”
There’s also a grey area when you define rape, making it harder to arrest someone who is accused, according to Mau.
“They are usually people that know each other, and one person is taking advantage of the other person to put them in a compromising position,” Mau said.
As protesters make their way to the capitol, survivors hope their voices don’t go unheard.
KXAN reached out to Abbott’s office to see if there is plan to provide more resources to victims of sexual assault, but we have not heard back.
Follow KXAN’s Russell Falcon on Twitter @RussellFalcon for more Texas abortion law updates.