When Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law House Bill 8 in September 2019, he and fellow Republicans praised Lavinia Masters, the advocate for whom the bill was named, as a “courageous survivor.”
“I can assure you I do not think I would be signing this law today but for you and your tireless effort and commitment,” Abbott told Masters at a signing ceremony in Dallas, where he appeared alongside Democrat State Rep Victoria Neave, who spearheaded the legislation.
The Lavinia Masters Act set strict requirements around testing and preserving rape kits, and removed the statute of limitations for sexual assault cases if the evidence hasn’t been tested.
Masters, whose own rape kit had sat untested for more than two decades, was thrilled. “Finally they get it, they understand,” she told reporters. “This gives me closure.”
Now, with the passage of Senate Bill 8, which bans abortion in Texas at six weeks with no exceptions for rape, sexual abuse, incest or fetal anomaly, Masters says she and other survivors of sexual violence feel they’ve been cast aside.
“This law undermines so much of what we achieved,” she said in an interview with The Daily Beast on Tuesday night, hours after the governor defended SB8 by falsely claiming that it provides “at least six weeks for a person to get an abortion.” In a bizarre addendum to a question about protections for rape and incest victims, Abbott said that Texas is working “to eliminate all rapists.”
For starters, Masters told The Daily Beast, “you might not know you’re pregnant until well past six weeks, because, you know, biology.” Then there’s the trauma victims of rape endure. “It might take you a moment before you’re even able to acknowledge what happened, before you’re able to share that type of information and say ‘this was a sexual assault.’”
“It doesn’t make sense,” she said of Abbott’s new law. “We already feel like we’re rendered powerless by the sexual assault. And now here you come, taking more power, taking our options away. It’s insane, and it’s idiotic to say that after six weeks a person who was raped doesn’t have the option of ending the pregnancy. I mean, we have a hard enough time getting survivors to come forward and tell their stories.”
Recalling her own 1985 rape, Masters said she was traumatized a second time when the police questioned her. “They were like, ‘Are you sure you didn’t let your boyfriend in the house? You sure you didn’t want your mama to know?’ That’s what they said to me. And some victims, especially young victims, they don’t know how to process that. They think, well, if you’re calling me a liar, I’m just not gonna say anything.”
Masters said she was fortunate that her mother demanded she be given the morning-after pill soon after the assault. “But all parents don’t know about that,” she said. “And it might be days or weeks before that little girl comes forward and says ‘Mama, step-daddy raped me’ or something. Because I’ve heard stories like that. You know, this stuff actually happens.”
As a member of the governor's Sexual Assault Survivors’ Task Force, Masters said she feels she should have been consulted about SB8.
“The governor and his team should have thought through this,” she said. “It wouldn’t have been fair for them to decide for me, when I was raped at 13, that I have to carry a baby to term, and it’s not fair for victims today.”