The Starr County Grand Jury in Texas indicted Lizelle Herrera 26 years ago on one count each of murder and self-induced abortion. Yesterday, Starr County District attorney Gocha Allen Ramirez admitted that such a charge does not exist under Texas law. But Ramirez’s Office presented Herrera with an insubstantial charge to the grand jury, leading to Herrera’s illegal arrest. After posting a bond of $500,000, Herrera was released from jail on Saturday. She had spent only two nights there.
Ramirez posted a Facebook press release yesterday following Herrera’s arrest. He stated that he would immediately dismiss the charges against Ms. Herrera because it was clear that Ms. Herrera could not and shouldn’t be charged with the allegations against her. After “reviewing the applicable Texas law,” he reached his conclusion, as you might expect him to have done. BeforeTo seek an indictment. Apart from the implications of abortion debate, the inability to file an indictment was another example of prosecutorial misconduct.
Herrera is indicted on March 30, saying she was “intentionally, knowingly” responsible.[d]The death of an individual on January 7, “by self-induced abortion.” Although the indictment doesn’t cite the statute which allegedly authorized the charge, the language is consistent with Title 5 Chapter 19 Texas Penal Code. This chapter deals with “criminal murder.” This definition of “knowingly or intentionally” is murder. It’s a first degree felony that can lead to life imprisonment.
Crucially in this context, Chapter 19 says it “does not apply to the death of an unborn child if the conduct charged is…conduct committed by the mother of the unborn child.” The grand jurors didn’t bother to review the statute that Herrera was allegedly indicted under, as Herrera wasn’t read by the prosecutor. They seem to have believed that self-induced abortion was murder even though Texas law clearly states otherwise.
Rockie Gonzalez was the founder of La Frontera Fund. She said Herrera had been in the hospital during a miscarriage. Staff at the hospital reported Herrera to the police and she was then arrested. Ramirez stated that “it’s clear that Starr County Sheriff’s Department performed their duty and investigated the incident reported to them by the reporting hospital.” What was the point of investigating, when it was obvious from the beginning that this incident was not a Texas crime?
If the sheriff’s department had performed its duties, Herrera’s allegations would not have been considered a crime. It instead referred it to local prosecutors who, like them, failed to perform their duties and presented the case instead to grand jurors who, instead of doing their job, approved an inexplicable criminal charge. Lynn Paltrow is the executive director at National Advocates for Pregnant Women. She told the Associated Press on Saturday that “there’s no Texas law which authorizes women to be arrested for self-managed abortions.”
Two possibilities exist here. One, sheriff’s and district attorney’s offices, as well as the grand jury, did not know. The other, worse, is that they ignored it.
Ramirez stated yesterday that Ms. Herrera won’t face any prosecution, but it was clear to him that Ms. Herrera has suffered a lot from the events surrounding this indictment. It would be foolish to ignore this reality. Although the issues are contentious and need to be resolved, it’s not a criminal matter according to Texas law.
Herrera did not receive an apology. She was detained and she needed to get a lawyer. La Frontera Fund helped her to raise bail. Her life was then ended for no legal reason. Ramirez’s apology can actually be read to be an apology for abortion opponents, who may wish she had changed her behavior. This was a crime. Herrera was not responsible for the abortion contentiousness. All those involved in Herrera’s ordeal should know the answer.
Texas is exemplary in its approach to abortion, and the exception made by the homicide statute for women who get or induce abortions is a part of that general approach. S.B. 8 was enacted last September. It allows “anyone” to sue anyone who facilitates or performs abortions after detectable fetal heart activity (typically six weeks). However, the law does not allow for lawsuits against women who have had an abortion that is illegal.
S.B. S.B. The law also states that “a woman pregnant who is attempting, inducing, or performing an abortion drug-induced is not criminally responsible for this violation.”
In other words, Texas’s legislature has decided that illegal abortion-inducing pregnant women aren’t criminally or civilly responsible. Some abortion opponents—evidently including the hospital staff member(s) who reported Herrera, the sheriff’s department investigators who received that report, at least one prosecutor in Ramirez’s office, and the grand jurors who approved the indictment—may disagree with that policy. However, that law is Texas and the individuals’ convictions do not give them permission to claim otherwise.