In 2021, the state banned abortion without including an exception for women who have been sexually abused. Governor Greg Abbott defended the law by assuring that it would eradicate these crimes, even though most are committed by acquaintances of the victims.
When the new anti-abortion law was passed in Texas, it did not include an exception for those who have been raped. Republican Governor Greg Abbott said that would not be a problem: the state would get to work to get rapists off the streets.
A year later, Lindsey LeBlanc, who helps rape victims in a college town outside Houston, says she's never had so much work.
"The numbers have remained consistently high," said LeBlanc, executive director of the Sexual Assault Resource Center in Bryan, near Texas A&M University. Despite hiring two additional counselors in the past six months, it still has a waiting list for victims.
"We're struggling to keep up with the demand," she said.
The continuing rape cases in Texas are an example of how Republicans are having trouble defending abortion bans without exceptions. These initiatives have proven unpopular in the polls, generate controversial cases and cause political risk heading into the November elections. A year after the Texas law went into effect in September 2021, at least a dozen states also have bans that make no exceptions in cases of rape or incest.
The absence of exceptions has caused divisions among Republicans, including in West Virginia where a new law signed this month allows a brief window for rape and incest victims to obtain abortions if they first inform authorities. Recently, South Carolina Republicans scuttled a proposed ban after failing to get enough Republican support.
"It really disgusts me," said South Carolina Republican state Sen. Katrina Shealy, attacking her male colleagues on the floor of the state Senate.
Republican U.S. Sen. The proposal has virtually no chance of passage, and even Republican leaders did not immediately endorse it, reflecting how the party has had difficulty broaching the abortion issue with voters since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade this summer (which offered federal protection for the procedure).
An overwhelming majority of voters believe their state should allow abortion in specific cases, including rape, incest or if the pregnant person's health is in danger. Even Republicans see it as a dividing line among some voters.
"It's a very gray area," said Claudia Alcazar, chairwoman of the Republican Party in Starr County along the Texas-Mexico border, which has become a new political battleground after Republicans made in big gains of more conservative Hispanic voters in 2020.
She said she knows those who are "extreme, they never have an abortion for any reason, period. And then I have others who are like, 'Well, you know, it depends."
Pledge to weed out rapists
In Texas, Abbott said last September, "Texas will work tirelessly to make sure we remove all rapists from the streets." His opponents and critics said he was out of touch with reality. A rape hotline in Houston has received nearly 4,800 calls as of August of this year, which is expected to surpass the number of calls in all of last year, which was 4,843.
Until this summer, all abortions were banned in Texas except in cases where they are necessary to save the life of the pregnant person.
When asked what Abbott has done in the last year to eliminate rape, spokeswoman Renae Eze highlighted old measures to end the backlog of rape kits, a law signed in June that is intended to improve coordination and expand resources to combat sexual abuse and a task force that was formed in 2019 focused on this issue.