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Gov. Abbott to abortion opponents: 'All of you are life savers'

By William Melhado, The Texas Tribune
Gov. Greg Abbott speaks on Saturday during the Texas Rally for Life event at the Capitol in Austin. Photo by Montinique Monroe/The Texas Tribune
Gov. Greg Abbott speaks on Saturday during the Texas Rally for Life event at the Capitol in Austin. Photo by Montinique Monroe/The Texas Tribune

Jan. 29 (UPI) -- Gov. Greg Abbott on Saturday thanked hundreds of anti-abortion advocates who gathered in Austin to celebrate both last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade and the near total abortion ban that exists now in Texas.

"All of you are life savers, and thousands of newborn babies are the result of your heroic efforts," Abbott told the crowd who attended the 2023 Texas Rally for Life, one of the larger gatherings by anti-abortion advocates since the U.S. Supreme Court delivered its decision last summer, which removed the constitutional right to abortion.

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That decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization case activated Texas' trigger law banning abortion in nearly all cases. But Texas, nearly a year earlier had effectively blocked access to abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy and its own law withstood Supreme Court scrutiny that same year. That Texas measure was signed into law by Abbott.

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"We promised we would protect the life of every child with a heartbeat, and we did. I signed a law doing exactly that," Abbott said, also noting to the crowd that he signed into law a measure that bans mail-order abortion drugs.

The crowd spent the day on the Texas Capitol's south lawn, celebrating their victory, a decades-long fight to bring an end to abortion. The rally was held on the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision that was made on Jan. 28, 1973.

Prominent Texas anti-abortion advocates applauded the work of Abbott and other GOP leaders for legislation that banned the procedure. Joe Pojman, executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life, celebrated the near-complete end to abortion in the state, noting the harsh penalties for providers who administer or enable the procedure.

"Let's continue to make Texas a state in which abortion is entirely unthinkable and where everyone, from conception to natural death, is protected and thrives," Pojman said.

While Abbott and others lauded the work of the anti-abortion movement other rally participants said they felt there was still work to be done.

"We want abortion to be unthinkable," said Aidan Garza, of Austin, echoing a refrain splashed on posters and expressed by several attendees of the rally.

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Garza said he was marching in the walk to the Capitol that preceded the rally, as a member of his congregation of the St. Elias Antiochian Orthodox Church. He said he wants to see a federal law outlawing abortion.

Katie Martin, who also came with a small group from her church in Austin, said she plans to pour support into organizations and churches who can help pregnant Texans with everything from diapers to child care so the option of abortion becomes less attractive.

Abbott stressed the need to support mothers. He pointed to how the state has poured more than $100 million into its Alternatives to Abortion program, which helps mothers before and after giving birth.

Critics of the program have said the program is secretive in how it distributes funds and is a "waste" of money. The program's entire subcontractor process has not been made public and exactly how well it has helped mothers is hard to determine.

Still, Abbott touted the program, saying it "provides for the needs of women before birth and for up to three years after birth."

He stressed that the state "must redouble those efforts to protect the mother and the child," but offered no specifics.

Yanica Marshall, left, and Zach Henderson pray during the Texas Rally for Life event at the Capitol in Austin on Jan. 28, 2023.
Yanica Marshall, left, and Zach Henderson pray during the rally on Saturday. Credit: Montinique Monroe for The Texas Tribune
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Also absent from Abbott's comments, was any mention of creating exceptions for rape or incest, which remains a major focus for Democrats this legislative session.

But advocates gathered at the Capitol hope to maintain their momentum by not giving any concession to the near-total abortion ban in Texas, including for rape and incest.

Mollie Kemp and Valerie Muñoz both said they opposed amending the current abortion ban.

Kemp and Muñoz, both 19, joined the rally as members of the group Pro-Life Aggies, a secular anti-abortion organization at Texas A&M University. They say their generation is waking up to the "pro-life movement."

"It's traumatic enough," Kemp said of rape or incest. "But we don't want to create a second tragedy."

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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