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After Outcry, Texas Prosecutor Drops Murder Charges Against Woman Arrested for “Self-Induced Abortion”

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Image Credit: Twitter: @riseup4abortion

In Texas, the Starr County district attorney said he will drop murder charges against Lizelle Herrera, a 26-year-old Latina woman who was arrested Thursday and accused of causing the “death of an individual through a self-induced abortion.” Herrera was detained on a $500,000 bond and released from jail Saturday evening, hours after activists with the Rio Grande Valley-based La Frontera Fund held a protest outside the Starr County Jail. We speak with La Frontera Fund’s founder, Rockie Gonzalez, who says Herrera requested care from medical professionals who then turned her in to law enforcement. Gonzalez says that while details of the case are sketchy, the highly publicized arrest of Herrera will further intimidate pregnant people from accessing medical care in the age of anti-abortion laws like S.B. 8. “People are going to be afraid to share potentially lifesaving information with medical professionals for fear of arrest,” says Gonzalez.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

We end today’s show in Texas, where the Starr County district attorney says he’s going to drop the charges against Lizelle Herrera, a 26-year-old Latina woman who was arrested Thursday on murder charges, accused of causing the, quote, “death of an individual through a self-induced abortion,” unquote. Her arrest triggered mass outrage, and reproductive justice and abortion rights advocates quickly mobilized across Texas in solidarity with Lizelle, taking to the streets and raising money to pay her half a million-dollar bond. She was released from jail Saturday evening, hours after activists with the Rio Grande Valley-based La Frontera Fund held a protest outside the Starr County Jail.

Details of what led to Lizelle’s arrest are sketchy, but Starr County authorities said staff at a hospital where she went for medical care in January reported her to the police. Lizelle Herrera’s arrest comes as a contested anti-abortion law, S.B. 8, has been enforced in Texas since last September. The law makes it nearly impossible to access abortion, banning abortions after just six weeks — before many people know they’re pregnant. It also allows private citizens anywhere in the United States to sue healthcare workers and others for facilitating an abortion in Texas, like if a mother drives her daughter to a women’s health clinic, the mother could be sued by someone in Arkansas who doesn’t even know her. However, S.B. 8 explicitly exempts pregnant people from criminal prosecution if they get an abortion. A wave of similar anti-abortion laws are being enacted across the country, most recently in Oklahoma and Arizona.

For more, we go to Houston, Texas, where we’re joined by Rockie Gonzalez, the founder and board chair of La Frontera Fund, which helped lead efforts to free Lizelle Herrera.

Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us, Rockie. Can you explain what happened? This woman went into a hospital in January, and the staff of the hospital reported her to police?

ROCKIE GONZALEZ: Well, first of all, good morning, Amy. It’s an honor to be here and discussing this with you. Thank you for elevating the issue.

Yes, it’s exactly as you said: The details are sketchy. Essentially, Lizelle Herrera was arrested because of the report made by hospital staff, charged with murder and given a half a million-dollar bail, because, as you said, in the indictment, she was accused of knowingly killing an individual through a self-induced abortion. So, what we do know is that she went into the hospital and confided into the hospital staff, and that report led to her arrest. It is unclear whether — in the original indictment, whether or not she was actually, you know, inducing an abortion on herself or if she was helping someone. So, the language is really sketchy. And actually, Texas Penal Code explicitly exempts pregnant individuals from being punished for harming their own fetuses. And so, from the start, she never should have been arrested.

And I think one of the big concerns here is that we’re looking at an environment in a post-Roe scenario where our people are going to be afraid to share potentially lifesaving information with medical professionals for fear of arrest. Lizelle’s arrest is — I don’t want to say “unique,” because it’s not a precedent in Texas, but it is the first arrest of its sort with this kind of attention in the aftermath of the passage of S.B. 8.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we don’t exactly know what happened, right? I mean, first of all, isn’t this a violation of HIPAA rules, of privacy rules, number one? She might have taken a pill — is that right? — to induce an abortion, although, again, we are just guessing here.

ROCKIE GONZALEZ: Yeah, that’s all alleged. And that’s kind of the scary part of it. It potentially is a HIPAA violation. We have teams of lawyers and legal support doing research and looking where we can, because these are the kind of tactics that we’re facing as we come up against the Supreme Court decision this summer on the Mississippi law.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I mean, if this is an example of grassroots action having an effect, Rockie Gonzalez, if you can explain what La Frontera organized, very quickly, when you learned she was in jail — these protests — and then the resulting response of the Starr County district attorney, Ramirez, who wrote a press release basically saying he’s dropping the charges and he’s writing up the paperwork today?

ROCKIE GONZALEZ: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. Yes, that’s correct. So, Frontera Fund is an abortion fund. What we do is we pay for abortion procedures, and we offer practical support for folks who have to travel out of either the Rio Grande Valley or the state of Texas to obtain abortion care. We also pay for the ultrasounds which are required in the first part of the process to obtain an abortion in Texas. And so, that is our main work.

And we serve the Rio Grande Valley. For us, it’s an intersection of immigrant and reproductive justice, as well, because the Rio Grande Valley has the Texas-Mexico border, and about 100 miles north of the border, north of where the Rio Grande Valley touches the Mexico border, are where the immigration points are. So, if you are an undocumented immigrant and you become pregnant, we do not even have the opportunity to help those folks travel out of the Rio Grande Valley, say, to Austin or San Antonio, because they cannot cross those checkpoints. So, then they are forced into birth. So, Frontera Fund is dedicated to making abortion more accessible to people in the Rio Grande Valley. And now we’re looking at how our work in reproductive justice intersects with criminal justice, right? It’s not like news to us, but this arrest does highlight that situation.

What we did was, once we found out what was happening, we mobilized to get people out to the Starr County Jail. This is a small rural community, you know, and I think that they are not used to the sort of, you know, protest movement, things like that, in their community. So, while we were only able to mobilize a small group to show up, we did have our partners from South Texans for Reproductive Justice and the National Institute for Latina Health support us in that, and we had a group of folks show up and let the Starr County authorities know that we were not going to stand idly by. We had folks from across the state and across the country flood their phone lines, resulting in a disconnection of their phones. After a few hours, they just disconnected their lines. And it was shortly after that we received word that she was going to be put out, she was going to be taken out on bond. And then, the following day, on Sunday, we got the statement from the DA’s Office.

AMY GOODMAN: And you’ll be talking with Lizelle today?

ROCKIE GONZALEZ: We will be meeting with her family today. That is the plan, yes. But we are also aware that her recent release and decision at this point in time to not talk to the media is an important thing that we want to respect. And so we’re trying to take our time and honor the family’s space and their need to, you know, reunite and to celebrate Lizelle’s release.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Rockie Gonzalez, I want to thank you for being with us, founder of La Frontera. I’m Amy Goodman.

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