Pregnancy, Legal Confusion, and [Un]Intended Consequences

by Deedra Abboud in Political, Social Views
April 14, 2022 0 comments

A 26-year-old Texas woman was jailed after miscarrying and seeking medical attention at a nearby hospital.

For whatever reason, the hospital staff “suspected” she had caused her own miscarriage and contacted the sheriff’s office.

According to established medical confidentiality standards, information can only be released without the patient’s permission, including to law enforcement, if it is necessary to prevent potential [future] harm to the patient or others.

The Starr County District Attorney’s office convened a grand jury, which approved a murder indictment on March 30.

Sheriff’s Maj. 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.”

The woman was released from jail two days later after reproductive rights organizations deposited $500,000 in bail on her behalf.

Only after her case gained national notice did the district attorney’s office reverse its decision and drop the legally invalid murder charge.

Willfully ignoring the law to indict, arrest, and jail a young woman would be an outrageous abuse of power. But not knowing the law and not bothering to look it up before putting her through that ordeal amount to an egregious professional failure.

Gocha Allen Ramirez, the district attorney for Starr County, attempted to both avoid blame and take credit for his decision to “immediately dismiss the indictment against Ms. Herrera” because district attorneys have prosecutorial discretion and his job is to “do justice,” while also claiming the sheriff’s deputies were justified in arresting her because “to ignore the incident would have been a dereliction of their duty.”

It’s unclear what statute the Starr County District Attorney’s office believed the woman had broken when they indicted her, it’s not yet been made public, but what is certain is that she should never have been charged in the first place.

There have been a few convictions for self-induced abortion over the years because some states still have such antiquated criminalizing laws on the books, but Texas isn’t one of them.

In anticipation of a June Supreme Court decision that could overturn the landmark legal decision guaranteeing the right to abortion in the United States, even in cases of rape or incest, several states, including Texas, have prohibited the procedure much earlier than the point at which a fetus could survive outside the womb, which is usually around 24 weeks.

Though Texas recently approved one of the country’s most stringent anti-abortion laws, the new law only imposes civil penalties, not criminal consequences, for anyone who provides or assists in an abortion.

The new Texas law also expressly exempts from prosecution persons who have miscarriages, whether self-induced or not.

Last year, Texas also narrowed the window, but still allows, doctors to prescribe abortion-inducing drugs until seven weeks into pregnancy but prohibited mailing the medications. Under federal Food and Drug Administration laws, medication abortions are not considered self-induced at all.

While it remains unclear who in the Starr County prosecutor’s office sought the indictment against Herrera, Judith Solis is one of only five district attorneys in the office and is the same moonlighting lawyer who filed a divorce petition for Herrera’s estranged husband on the same day as her legally invalid arrest, prompting concerns about a potential conflict of interest or even the source of the false arrest.

The woman’s name and mugshot have been widely publicized, further upsetting her life.

The case may deter other Texans from seeking crucial medical treatment for fear of penalties and similar persecution.

The “confusion” and consequences are real.

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