Wednesday, December 7

Abbott and O’Rourke clash on abortion and immigration in Texas debate | Texas


Immigration, abortion and border security all came up in Friday’s contentious, rapid-paced gubernatorial debate in Texas, where Beto O’Rourke is trying to help the Democrats wrest back the far-right leaning state from Greg Abbott and the Republicans.

Abbott and his challenger O’Rourke kept their sole debate fierce and lively in spite of an almost completely empty venue on the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley campus in Edinburg. The lack of a meaningful audience was one of several conditions imposed by the governor, according to O’Rourke’s camp, who described the offer to debate as a “take it or leave it” type of deal.

Even though the election will fall during a midterm, non-presidential election year, voters are expected to be more motivated to go to the polls than before in large part because of the US supreme court’s elimination of the federal abortion rights established by Roe v Wade in 1973.

“I’m governing from principles,” Abbott said when asked if he had moved too far to the right. After the supreme court reversed Roe v Wade in June, Texas enacted a ban on abortion without no exceptions, even in cases of rape or incest.

Abbott said he and his wife are Catholics who have been against abortion their whole lives, and he described wanting to share the joys of adoption, which the couple experienced when they adopted their daughter.

The governor touted healthcare options and resources available to women after they give birth, but he said an emergency contraception pill – like Plan B – could be used to stop a pregnancy before it happens.

O’Rourke countered: “This election is about reproductive freedom, but I’ve got to respond to this, this silliness on Plan B – this comment he made about eliminating rape in the state of Texas. This is an attack on women.”

Abbott has said in the past months he would “eliminate rape” when pressed about the exclusion of exceptions to abortion for victims of rape.

“It’s arguable that rapists enjoy more rights under Greg Abbott than their victims do because they can sue the families of their victims if [the families] help [the rapists’] victims get an abortion,” O’Rourke said, referring to a Texas law that allows private citizens to sue those who help someone receive an abortion.

The debate was held in south Texas, a much-visited area by Abbott, who has increased law enforcement’s presence at the border with Mexico ostensibly to deter human and drug smuggling largely through a program called Operation Lone Star.

Abbott’s administration has poured over $4bn in taxpayer money into the program. And, as the moderator and O’Rourke pointed out, the arrival of immigrants on the Texas border has reached record levels.

“Zero dollars should be going to Operation Lone Star and that’s what it would be if we had a president enforcing the immigration laws of the United States of America,” Abbott said, echoing his frequent criticism about the Joe Biden White House’s approach to the border .

Under Operation Lone Star, members of Texas’s national guard and troopers from the state’s public safety department have been forcibly deployed to the border. Both agencies have since had members die amid the mission.

O’Rourke has previously expressed opposition to the presence of national guard troops at the border. But Friday, he said he favored partnering local sheriffs’ deputies and state troopers with national guard troops who volunteer for the mission.

It isn’t the first time O’Rourke has modified political positions. He supported a complete ban on high-powered rifles when he unsuccessfully ran for president in 2019, but in gun-friendly Texas, he’s pushed for requiring people to be at least 21 years old rather than just 18 before they can legally buy such weapons.

Meanwhile, Abbott at one point found himself defending his taxpayer-funded bussing of migrants and asylum seekers from Texas to Democratic-controlled cities as a way to reduce stress on border communities. But O’Rourke dismissed those trips as mere “political stunts”.

Before the debate started, 40% of the crowd of 15 allowed into the session leaned toward voting for Abbott, 27% for O’Rourke and 33% were undecided. They were polled again afterward. The results indicated Abbott moved up slightly to 43% – but O’Rourke swayed more undecided voters and nearly doubled his gains from him to 50%.


www.theguardian.com

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