A 26-year-old woman has been charged with murder in Texas after authorities said she caused “the death of an individual by self-induced abortion,” in a state that has the most restrictive abortion laws in the US.
It’s unclear whether Lizelle Herrera is accused of having an abortion or whether she helped someone else get an abortion.
Herrera was arrested Thursday and remained jailed Saturday on a US$500,000 bond in the Starr County jail in Rio Grande City, on the US-Mexico border, sheriff’s Major Carlos Delgado said in a statement.
“Herrera was arrested and served with an indictment on the charge of murder after Herrera did then and there intentionally and knowingly cause the death of an individual by self-induced abortion,” Delgado said.
Delgado did not say under what law Herrera has been charged. He said no other information will be released until at least Monday because the case remains under investigation.
Texas law exempts her from a criminal homicide charge for aborting her own pregnancy, University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck told The Associated Press.
“(Homicide) doesn’t apply to the murder of an unborn child if the conduct charged is ‘conduct committed by the mother of the unborn child,'” Vladeck said.
A 2021 state law that bans abortions in Texas for women who are as early as six weeks pregnant has sharply curtailed the number of abortions in the state. The law leaves enforcement to private citizens who can sue doctors or anyone who helps a woman get an abortion.
The woman receiving the abortion is exempted from the law.
However, some states still have laws that criminalise self-induced abortions “and there have been a handful of prosecutions here and there over the years,” Vladeck said.
“It is murder in Texas to take steps that terminate a foetus, but when a medical provider does it, it can’t be prosecuted” due to US Supreme Court rulings upholding the constitutionality of abortion, Vladeck said.
Lynn Paltrow, the executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women also noted the state law exemption.
“What’s a little mysterious in this case is, what crime has this woman been charged with?” Paltrow said. “There is no statute in Texas that, even on its face, authorises the arrest of a woman for a self-managed abortion.”
Another Texas law prohibits doctors and clinics from prescribing abortion-inducing medications after the seventh week of pregnancy and prohibits delivery of the pills by mail.
Medication abortions are not considered self-induced under federal Food and Drug Administration regulations, Vladeck said.
“You can only receive the medication under medical supervision,” according to Vladeck. “I realise this sounds weird because you are taking the pill yourself, but it is under a providers’ at least theoretical care.”
In Rio Grande City on Saturday the abortion rights group Frontera Fund called for Herrera’s release.
“We don’t yet know all the details surrounding this tragic event,” said Rockie Gonzales, founder and board chair of of the organisation.
“What we do know is that criminalising pregnant people’s choices or pregnancy outcomes, which the state of Texas has done, takes away people’s autonomy over their own bodies, and leaves them with no safe options when they choose not to become a parent,” Gonzalez said.
Nancy Cárdenas Peña, Texas State Director for Policy and Advocacy for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, said in a statement that abortion should be available on the woman’s own terms where she feels most comfortable.
“Allowing criminal law to be used against people who have ended their own pregnancies serves no reasonable state purpose, but may cause great harm to young people, people with lower incomes, and communities of color, who are most likely to encounter or be reported to law enforcement,” Peña said.
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