A South Texas sheriff’s official said Saturday that a 26-year-old woman had been charged with murder in connection with the “death of an individual following a voluntary abortion.”
The woman, Lizelle Herrera, 26, was arrested Friday and held in Starr County, the official, Maj. Carlos Delgado, said in a statement reported by The Associated Press on Saturday. Ms Herrera was released on bail on Saturday, according to a statement from the Frontera Fund, an abortion rights organization. His bail was set at $500,000.
Although the circumstances of the case remain unclear – the statement does not specify whether Ms Herrera was charged with having an abortion or aiding one, or how far the pregnancy had gone – the act of accusation comes months after the Texas legislature passed several restrictions on abortion.
The prosecution also comes as the Supreme Court is expected to soon overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion and prohibited states from banning the procedure before a fetus was viable outside the womb, which is currently around 23 weeks of pregnancy.
The law under which Ms Herrera is charged is unclear. An abortion ban that took effect in Texas in September, known as SB 8, prohibits abortions after six weeks but leaves enforcement to civilians, offering them rewards of at least $10,000 for successful prosecution of anyone “aiding or abetting” an abortion.
The Texas Legislature then enacted another law, SB 4, which establishes a criminal violation – a state felony punishable by a $10,000 fine and up to two years in prison – for supplying pills of medical abortion after 49 days of pregnancy, or for providers who fail to comply with a series of new regulations and procedures. This law also exempts pregnant women from prosecution.
A section of the Texas criminal code exempts pregnant women from being charged with murder in connection with “the death of an unborn child.” Most states instead target abortion providers when an abortion is deemed illegal. In most of the country, abortion is banned after fetal viability, typically 22 to 24 weeks, although several states are moving to ban abortions at much earlier stages in anticipation of Roe’s cancellation.
According to Major Delgado’s statement, Ms Herrera was charged with murder after she “intentionally and knowingly” caused the death of an individual by voluntary abortion.
Self-managed abortion is any abortion outside of medical care and may include the use of abortion pills. But in dangerous cases, it may be those carried out with supplements, herbs or vitamins; multiple contraceptive pills or emergency contraceptive pills; or physical trauma.
Ms Herrera’s lawyer, Calixtro Villarreal, declined to be interviewed on Saturday. The Starr County District Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office could not be reached for comment. In his statement, Maj. Delgado said the district attorney plans to release details to the media on Monday.
Although women have been arrested, imprisoned and convicted in voluntary abortion cases, including cases in which women used drugs during pregnancy, these cases have been rare and even more rarely resulted in a conviction. .
But that could change in this new political climate, as women increasingly turn to voluntary abortions, said Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
“States have made it even harder for women to get abortions from medical professionals, leading them to the most terrible remedy of doing it themselves,” Vladeck said. He added that “those types of lawsuits that would have been incredibly unpopular and controversial even 10 or 15 years ago” are now receiving more support.
Jenny Ecklund, an attorney representing the Frontera Fund and other abortion rights groups in Texas, said the indictment sends a distressing signal to women in the state. “If a state can criminalize conduct it doesn’t know or understand, it puts the lives of anyone who might be pregnant in the state of Texas in real danger,” she said.
Kate Zernike contributed report. Jack Beg contributed to the research.