HOUSTON — Inside a barbecue joint sitting behind a giant metal armadillo — a place decorated with saddles, lone stars and country sheet music — Greg Abbott came home to Houston for a campaign event Monday in the city where his political career started as a state district judge.
“Houston holds a special place in my heart as the place where all of this began,” he told a packed house of cheering Republican supporters.
As long as he’s made a career in politics, Abbott has been especially popular among social conservatives. In his stump speech, he brags about defending a monument to the Ten Commandments and fighting to keep “God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.
And he also speaks out against abortion.
“I’ve defended the most vulnerable in Texas -- unborn children,” he said.
However, when reporters press him for details about the depth of his opposition to abortion, his answers become notably indirect.
Indeed, his cryptic responses to questions on the subject make it hard to tell what Abbott will do on this issue if he’s elected to the governor’s mansion.
Abortion is the flashpoint topic in Texas politics, the issue that’s put the state in the center of a national debate.
Just days after the Texas Legislature delivered social conservatives a hard-won political victory by passing one of the toughest anti-abortion laws in the nation, the state’s staunchly pro-life attorney general declared his candidacy for governor.
And yet, Abbott — a disciplined, on-message campaigner — dodges questions about just how far his opposition to abortion goes.
Questioned about whether he would support or oppose legislation banning abortions for rape or incest victims, Abbott avoids the question.
“Well, I’m pro-life,” he said during an interview after the Houston campaign appearance. “And even under the laws that were passed by the Texas Legislature in this session that will be signed by the governor and that I’ll be defending in court, a woman is going to have five months to make a decision about having an abortion, regardless of how that child was conceived. We’re working for a day when we’re actually protecting both the lives of the innocent unborn, but also to protect the lives of the women who carry those children.”
When pressed again to directly answer the question, he dodged it.
“I support the legislation that was passed by the state Legislature during this special session, that the governor is going to sign into law and that I will be defending in court,” he said. “The battle is moving from the statehouse to the courthouse. And this is a law that is going to do even more to protect life in the state of Texas.”
Abbott’s precise position on abortion has been difficult to pin down. No question he’s very much on the pro-life side of the political spectrum, but it’s hard to determine exactly where on the spectrum his beliefs lie.
On the day after he declared for governor, the Houston Chronicle published a column in which veteran political reporter Peggy Fikac asked Abbott whether he would allow an exception in anti-abortion legislation to save the life of a mother.
“In a way, but you’re in a way kind of mischaracterizing the word,” the attorney general said. “It’s not like an exception. What both the medical community needs to do, and the pro-life community supports, is doing everything we can to protect the life of the mother.”
Last January, on the eve of a rally by politically influential abortion opponents, a quote attributed to Abbott in the Austin American Statesman indicated Abbot believed there should be no exceptions in anti-abortion legislation.
“If you really are pro-life, you are thinking about the life of the child,” Abbott was quoted as saying. “And once you start putting exceptions into that, you’re saying that there are certain children who really are not worthy of life.”
Democrats are already attacking Abbott’s positions on women’s issues. Planned Parenthood’s Gulf Coast Action Fund issued a statement on Abbott’s announcement for governor that pledged to “harness the outrage” and elect political leaders “who will fight for women.”
“That’s why 80 percent of Texans said they did not want their elected officials to further restrict women’s access to health care this session,” said the statement attributed to Melaney Linton, the president of the fund.
The issue will inevitably arise again during the 18 months left in the campaign for Texas governor.