AUSTIN, Texas — Planned Parenthood has launched a new series of web ads attacking Republican candidate for Texas Governor Greg Abbott that echo a controversial ad by his Democratic opponent, Wendy Davis. The ads began appearing on websites that run Google Ads this week, and feature several different all-capital letter headlines:
“Greg Abbott Blocked Rape Victims from Justice”
“Greg Abbott Told Rape Victims No”
“Rape. Corporate Greed. Why we need to stop Greg Abbott.”
The ads link to a website, StopGregAbbott.org, that says it is sponsored by Planned Parenthood Texas Votes PAC, a political action fund launched earlier this year to support pro-abortion candidates in the fall elections. The Houston Chronicle reported last month that the PAC announced plans to spend three million dollars this election cycle, and already had more than one million dollars cash on hand, mostly due to a million dollar donation from a single donor, Planned Parenthood Chair Cecilia Boone.
Last week, the Davis campaign began running a TV ad that attacked Abbott with similar language. In the ad, a woman from Seguin, Texas lets a door-to-door Kirby vacuum cleaner salesman into her home, and an ominous-sounding narrator tells the viewer that, “while her children slept in the next room, the salesman brutally raped the young mother.” The woman and her husband sued for damages, and the case made it all the way to the Texas Supreme Court, while Abbott was a Texas Supreme Court Justice.
At issue in the case was whether the victim could sue the Kirby Corporation when the salesman had been hired by an independent distributor that had assumed responsibility for hiring. The Court ruled in favor of the victim, but Abbott and two other justices disagreed, finding that the contractual relationship between Kirby and the distributor who hired the salesman was insufficient to impose liability on Kirby for the actions of the salesman. Note that this was what is called a “dissenting” opinion, as opposed to the majority opinion, which is the actual law from the case. Here, the victim was able to sue the Kirby Corporation and was awarded damages. Additionally, this case had no bearing on the criminal case against the rapist and had no effect on his conviction or sentence.
Davis’ ad predictably was met with a storm of controversy. The Abbott campaign swiftly denounced the ad as “gutter politics” and a “desperate distortion attempt.” The Houston Chronicle quoted several rape crisis center employees and sexual assault victims who viewed the ad as “unnecessarily sensational,” “exploiting a rape survivor,” and potentially triggering traumatic memories for sexual assault victims. Erica Grieder at Texas Monthly characterized the ad as “creepy” and wrote that the ad’s hyperbolic language “makes it sound like Abbott wanted to give the rapist a pardon and a reference letter for a job as a high school volleyball coach.” Perhaps most controversial is the Davis campaign’s admission that they had not obtained the victim’s consent or even notified her before running the TV ads.
Just like the original Davis TV ad, the Planned Parenthood web ads use inflammatory language to attack Abbott on the issue of rape. For example, one graphic on the website titled “Get the Facts on Abbott” states that “as a judge, he refused to allow rape victims to sue,” and in a section titled “Abbott’s Anti-Women Record,” it says that Abbott “blocked rape victims from suing those who negligently hire their rapists.” Besides the fact that neither one of those statements are factually or legally true, Planned Parenthood is itself under fire after recent investigations revealed a widespread failure to report victims of sex trafficking and rape who were brought into their clinics by their abusers for abortions.
Sarah Elizabeth Rumpf is a political and communications consultant living in Austin. You can follow her on Twitter at @rumpfshaker.