Murder Charge Dismissed Against Texas Woman in ‘Self-Induced Abortion’ Case

Anarba Groub

Mr. Ramirez and Ms. Herrera’s lawyer, Calixtro Villarreal, did not respond to requests for comment.

It was not immediately known what statute Ms. Herrera was being indicted under. An abortion ban that took effect in Texas in September, known as S.B. 8, prohibits abortion after six weeks but leaves enforcement to civilians, offering them rewards of at least $10,000 for successful lawsuits against anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion.

The Texas Legislature then enacted another law, S.B. 4, which establishes a criminal violation — a state felony punishable by a $10,000 fine and up to two years in prison — for providing medical abortion pills after 49 days of pregnancy, or for providers who fail to comply with a series of new regulations and procedures. That law also exempts pregnant women from prosecution.

One section of the Texas penal code exempts expectant mothers 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 prohibited after fetal viability, generally at 22 to 24 weeks of pregnancy. Several states, however, are moving to ban abortions at much earlier stages in anticipation that the U.S. Supreme Court will soon overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that established a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion and that prohibited states from banning the procedure before a fetus is viable.

The anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life supported Mr. Ramirez’s decision to drop the charge. S.B. 8 and other anti-abortion policies in the state “clearly prohibit criminal charges for pregnant women,” the organization said in a statement. “Texas Right to Life opposes public prosecutors going outside of the bounds of Texas’ prudent and carefully crafted policies.”

Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said that the district attorney’s reversal reflected what Mr. Vladeck said was a misreading of the law.

“I think what this really suggests is that this was a rash decision, by a local prosecutor who might not have fully appreciated what the law does and does not prohibit, as opposed to a piece of a broader campaign of hostility to abortion,” Mr. Vladeck said. But he added it is only a matter of time before more cases like this occur.

“I think this case is also a sobering reminder of how much discretion prosecutors have — even when they’re wrong on the law,” he said. “And how difficult it is, especially for those less familiar with the system, those with fewer resources, for them to push back against prosecutorial mistakes, or overreach. And that’s a phenomenon that goes far beyond abortion.”

Kate Zernike contributed reporting. Jack Begg contributed research.

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