Beto O’Rourke Steps Up Abortion Rights Campaign As Trigger Law Goes Into Force

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke speaks at an abortion rights rally in East Austin on June 26. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune

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Beto O’Rourke amplifies his already fierce criticism of Governor Greg Abbott on abortion rights as Texas’ “trigger law” goes into effect Thursday, banning nearly all abortions in the state after the Supreme Court of United States overruled Roe v. Wade.

The Democratic gubernatorial candidate presents the issue in his first general election television commercials, which air during two preseason football games Thursday and Friday nights, according to his campaign. O’Rourke also marked the implementation of the law with a Thursday morning press conference in Houston, where he was joined by women and doctors who have been affected by the state’s abortion restrictions.

In recent emails to his supporters, O’Rourke suggested that banning abortion is “the most important thing” voters need to know about Abbott, signaling a hard-fought straight line on the issue.

O’Rourke’s TV buy during football games is a small fraction of the type of advertising Abbott’s campaign has run since last week, but the challenger’s campaign says it wants to reach the widest audience pre-season matches with a timely message.

One of the TV ads shows the faces of the women as they say that starting Thursday, “women across Texas are no longer free to make decisions about their own bodies.” A second TV spot depicts a wife – a “longtime Democrat” – and a husband – a “longtime Republican” – agreeing that the abortion law goes too far.

“I mean, it’s a free country,” says husband, Trey Ramsey. “We need a governor who understands this – and that’s Beto.”

Abbott’s campaign responded by arguing that O’Rourke is the one who is “extreme” on abortion, noting his longtime refusal to say whether he supports restrictions on the practice. O’Rourke reiterated that stance at Thursday’s press conference, saying he trusts women and their doctors to make the best decisions for themselves.

O’Rourke’s views “are not just out of touch with Texas, they are out of touch with basic humanity,” Abbott spokeswoman Renae Eze said in a statement.

Abbott signed the trigger law last year, guaranteeing that Texas would automatically ban abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. It happened in June, mobilizing Democrats across the country and giving O’Rourke’s campaign momentum.

[Gov. Greg Abbott unloads nearly $20 million in ad buys in race against Beto O’Rourke]

Other Democratic candidates statewide also took advantage of the trigger law that goes into effect Thursday. Mike Collier, candidate for lieutenant governor, and Rochelle Garza, candidate for attorney general, posted a video on social media urging voters to join them in the fight to restore the right to abortion in the Texas.

O’Rourke has campaigned tirelessly on the law’s lack of exceptions for people pregnant as a result of rape or incest, as well as polls that show the law is highly unpopular in Texas. TV commercials highlight some of these polls.

An August survey found that 82% of voters support the rape or incest exceptions. At the press conference, O’Rourke called abortion rights “one of the few truly unifying issues in the state of Texas right now.”

O’Rourke’s campaign said it was running the ads in seven markets during the Houston Texans preseason game Thursday night and the Dallas Cowboys preseason game Friday night. The campaign did not detail any plans for running TV ads beyond Friday.

Abbott’s campaign has been on television since Tuesday of last week, airing a positive biographical spot featuring his wife, in a buy consistent with a well-funded statewide campaign.

Neither campaign was short on cash by the last fundraising deadline — June 30 — when Abbott had $45.7 million in cash and O’Rourke had $24.9 million in cash. It costs well over a million dollars a week to run a serious statewide television ad campaign.

But the football game ads are part of an even more intense focus on the issue for O’Rourke as the trigger law takes effect. At the press conference, O’Rourke spotlighted doctors who say they are becoming more politically involved due to the curtailment of abortion rights under Abbott.

“Greg Abbott is not a doctor, said Dr. Lee Bar-Eli, a Houston family physician and national board member of Doctors in Politics. “He doesn’t understand the complexity of choices in health care, and so for the first time you see doctors waking up and realizing that if we’re not in politics, if we’re not working to elect someone like Beto O’Rourke, then we can’t practice medicine the way we want – we have to.

In recent emails to his supporters, O’Rourke made it clear that he views Abbott’s abortion record as a major issue, if not the #1 issue. An email on Monday asked: ” What are the most important things Texans need to know about Abbott?” The response began with, “Greg Abbott has signed the nation’s most extreme abortion bill with no exceptions for rape or incest, even though 82% of Texans reject his sweeping ban.

Abbott has been relatively quiet on abortion since the reversal of Roe v. Wade, more eager to talk about President Joe Biden and issues related to the economy and the border. He avoided some of the more celebratory rhetoric from fellow Republicans after the Supreme Court ruling, saying in a statement that the court “properly” overturned Roe v. Wade.

Abbott’s campaign did not address the trigger law in its response to O’Rourke on Thursday, instead focusing on O’Rourke’s record on the issue. Abbott’s campaign pointed out that the former El Paso congressman in 2015 voted against the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which sought to create requirements for the care of an infant after a failed abortion. .

Nationally, the issue has complicated an election cycle that Republicans have long expected to follow. Last month, voters in another red state, Kansas, overwhelmingly rejected a special referendum to overturn the state’s constitution and allow the legislature to pursue new abortion restrictions. And on Tuesday night, Democrats won a special congressional election in New York in which their candidate campaigned for abortion rights.


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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/08/25/beto-orourke-abortion-texas/.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, member-supported newsroom that informs and engages Texans about politics and state politics. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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