The woman who was thrown in jail on a murder charge in Texas for allegedly having caused the “death of an individual by self-induced abortion” has been released after the local district attorney dropped the case.
Lizelle Herrera, 26, was reported to be back with her family on Sunday after the district attorney in Rio Grande City, on the US-Mexico border, put out a statement saying he was immediately dismissing the case. Herrera had been arrested last Thursday and placed in the Starr county jail on the back of a grand jury indictment.
“The issues surrounding this matter are clearly contentious,” the DA, Gocha Allen Ramirez, said. “However, based on Texas law and the facts presented, it is not a criminal matter.”
The prosecutor added: “Ms Herrera did not commit a criminal act under the laws of the state of Texas.”
Ramirez’s statement correlates with the view of legal experts and women’s rights advocates who say that Herrera’s arrest should never have happened in the first place. Texas authorities are now likely to face accusations that by putting the woman behind bars they committed an act of gross overreach.
“There is no law in Texas that authorizes treating people who have miscarriages, still births or abortions as murderers,” said Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women.
The current law in Texas explicitly exempts women from being policed for any self-managed abortion. The state has attracted considerable attention in recent months after it passed SB 8, legislation that allows private citizens to sue anyone who helps a woman get an abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy.
But SB 8 is a civil – not a criminal – provision, and it cannot be applied to the woman receiving the abortion herself.
Nonetheless, the abortion ban, which passed all the way up to the US supreme court, has put a chill over Texas. A recent study from the policy evaluation project of the University of Texas at Austin found that between August and December last year, 1,400 women had been forced out of Texas to seek abortion care in other states.
The precise details of what happened to Herrera are still unclear, but it appears that the hospital she attended reported her to authorities. In his statement, Ramirez said the Starr county sheriff’s department investigated Herrera after the hospital brought “the incident” to the officers’ attention.
Local advocacy groups in southern Texas expressed joy at Herrera’s release, coupled with anger that she had been detained in the first place. South Texans for Reproductive Justice called the dismissal of charges a “bittersweet victory”.
The group said: “It should not have taken national attention for these charges to be dismissed.”
The confusion over Herrera’s wrongful arrest is an indication of the tensions that are rising in states across the country ahead of a critical ruling by the supreme court on the constitutional right to an abortion framed in Roe v Wade. The court is expected to give its decision in June, and all indications suggest it is likely to rein back abortion rights at least to some degree.
Paltrow warned that any move by the supreme court to hand more control over abortion laws to the states would inevitably lead to increased rates of surveillance, reporting and arrests of women.
“For the past 50 years, anti-abortion activists have been trying to groom people in the US to view pregnant women as criminals,” she said.