It’s been well over a year now since Texas enacted its citizen-enforced abortion ban, S.B. 8, which offers no exceptions for rape. In September 2021, Gov. Greg Abbott famously defended this by proclaiming that he would simply “eliminate all rapists from the streets,” ostensibly by giving more funding to the same police officers who do little to nothing to prevent sexual violence—and often perpetrate it themselves.
And now, in the wake of some Texas Republicans expressing openness to adding a rape exception to the state’s abortion laws ahead of the 2023 legislative session, Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick (R) opted to give a revisionist history lesson on the issue on the podcast Y’allitics this week. Specifically, Patrick suggested Democrats are actually to blame for the cruelty that abortion bans inflict on rape victims. “Our original law that’s on the books now was written by Democrats—all Democrats,” Patrick said. “We had few Republicans back then, few Republicans in the state. They did not put in an exception for rape or incest when they passed that law.”
Patrick is referring to pre-Roe abortion bans and laws criminalizing abortion from the 1920s and as far back as the 1850s—you know, before the political realignment spurred by the New Deal era.
Because apparently it needs to be said, political parties took radically different stances 100 years ago! Today, Texas Democrats are challenging abortion bans and Republicans are upholding them—it’s not complicated.
Insipid as Patrick’s comments were (including his claim that “a child who is born should not be another victim of that crime,” referring to rape-induced pregnancies), what else, really, could he say? For over a year now, Texas Republicans—like anti-abortion lawmakers everywhere—have stumbled around talking about abortion and rape, relying on obfuscation, misinformation, and tough-on-crime rhetoric disregarding how law enforcement and the criminal legal system have historically victimized survivors, because they can’t justify their positions.
In recent months, Republican politicians have claimed people can’t be impregnated by rape because they “control that intake of semen.” Last year, Jezebel reported on a Michigan Republican candidate who said he told his daughters, “If rape is inevitable, you should just lie back and enjoy it.” An Ohio Republican in the state legislature called pregnancy from rape “an opportunity.” Notably, in post-Roe Ohio, a 10-year-old rape victim was forced to travel across state lines for abortion, prompting top Republicans in Ohio and Indiana to terrorize and investigate the doctor who provided her care for months.
In June, then-Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) outright admitted that the state’s total abortion ban, which lacks a rape exception, could force rape survivors as young as 13 to carry their rapist’s babies—but he also refused to do anything about it. “I would prefer a different outcome than that, but that’s not the debate today in Arkansas. It might be in the future, but for now, the law triggered with only one exception ... in the case of the life of the mother.”
I truly can’t over-state that rape exceptions to abortion bans are almost worthless in practice, since the majority of victims don’t report their rapes, and any and all abortion bans already amount to state gender-based violence—being denied abortion places someone at greater risk of domestic violence. The top cause of death for pregnant people is homicide, often by abusive partners.
The only way to grant pregnant rape victims dignity and agency is to not ban abortion at all or subject survivors to extensive, retraumatizing verification processes to “prove” their rape to law enforcement. Yet, where anti-abortion lawmakers once overwhelmingly supported rape exceptions—to present themselves as “moderate”—nearly all abortion bans post-Roe now lack them. Because why pretend to care about pregnant people and rape survivors when you can just lie and blame the Democrats?