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Democrat Beto O'Rourke wasted little time using Friday's 6-3 Supreme Court ruling striking down Roe v. Wade as a way to galvanize the support of abortion rights advocates for his challenge to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.
"The only way to overcome today’s decision is to win this race for governor," O'Rourke said in an email statement that went out only minutes after the high court's ruling was handed down. "The Supreme Court has sent this back to the states, and our state’s current governor has outlawed abortion beginning at conception with no exception for rape or incest."
A separate email from Cecile Richards, O'Rourke's fundraising chairwoman and former president of Planned Parenthood's political arm, landed shortly afterward containing a plea for donations to the Democrat's campaign as a way of safeguarding abortion rights in Texas.
Both messages promised urgent action and suggested at least indirectly that the governor might have unilateral power to affect abortion law. But even if O'Rourke upsets Abbott's bid for a third term in November, he would be the decided underdog in any legislative battle over abortion.
The Republican-dominated Legislature in 2021 enacted a "trigger law" designed to kick in whenever the Roe decision was struck down. The Texas law makes it a felony to perform an abortion at any point in pregnancy.
Republicans are heavily favored to retain control of both legislative chambers in the coming elections, regardless of the outcome of the governor's race.
"Democrats would need more than just control of the Governor's Mansion to make major changes to the abortion policy direction in Texas," said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston and a keen observer of Texas politics. "Given how entrenched anti-abortion politics is in the policy and personnel in Texas, it would take a major political earthquake to change things."
Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is favored to win a third term in November, has made eliminating legal abortion in Texas a centerpiece of his political career. Patrick issued a statement that highlighted anti-abortion legislation he's backed both as a state senator and as the chamber's presiding officer and called the court's ruling a "watershed victory" for his efforts.
Clear from his remarks was that any effort to roll back the trigger law when the Legislature reconvenes in January would be doomed from the start if he remains at the helm in the Senate.
For his part, Abbott said the court's ruling was "correctly" decided and touted legislation he has signed over his two terms that limited abortion rights within the confines of Roe v. Wade.
"Texas is a pro-life state, and we have taken significant action to protect the sanctity of life," Abbott said.
Chris Evans, O'Rourke's campaign spokesman, acknowledged that the Democrat's power to change Texas abortion policy would be limited assuming he is elected. But supporters of reproductive freedom could expect no relief if Abbott is awarded a third term.
"The Supreme Court said this is now up to the states, so Texas will need a governor who will protect every woman's right to make her own decisions over her own body," Evans said.
John C. Moritz covers Texas government and politics for the USA Today Network in Austin. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @JohnnieMo.
This article originally appeared on Corpus Christi Caller Times: O'Rourke promises action on abortion rights but would have limited power