Overview:

Prosecutors in Texas dropped murder charges against 26-year-old Lizelle Herrera this past week. Herrera had been charged with murder after she allegedly told medical staff at the Starr County Hospital that she tried to induce her own abortion.

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Although prosecutors in Texas dropped murder charges against 26-year-old Lizelle Herrera this past week, the effects of the case are likely to be felt for some time. Herrera had been charged with murder after she allegedly told medical staff at the Starr County Hospital that she tried to induce her own abortion.

“The issues surrounding this matter are clearly contentious,” said Gocha Allen Ramirez, the District Attorney of Starr County. “However, based on Texas law and the facts presented, it is not a criminal matter. Ms. Herrera did not commit a criminal act under the laws of the state of Texas.”

Texas law mandates that medical professionals who provide abortions roughly six weeks after pregnancy and abortion medications seven weeks after conception face civil penalties of at least $10,000. However, the Texas law does not criminalize women who have abortions, so the charges against Herrera had to be dropped.

“There is no statute in Texas that, even on its face, authorizes the arrest of a woman for a self-managed abortion,” said Lynn Paltrow, the executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women.

Although the murder charges against Lizelle Herrera have been dropped, the case will likely have a chilling effect.

Access to abortion has been shrinking over time, particularly in Republican-led states. Republicans have consistently been hostile to abortion seekers and providers over the years, and now the conservative Supreme Court majority stands on the cusp of overturning Roe v. Wade and sending the issue of abortion back to the states. With a potential Supreme Court win on the issue of abortion looming, conservative states have wasted no time passing new, highly restrictive laws on the procedure. These laws are effective bans on abortion, with potential penalties levied against the women and healthcare providers who defy the state. The goal is not just to punish women who are seeking abortions, but also to make a very public example of those who do in order to dissuade others. 

Although the murder charges against Lizelle Herrera have been dropped, the case will likely have a chilling effect. Women in Texas may not seek out medical care for a miscarriage or after taking abortion medication for fear of being arrested and charged with a crime. It was after all the hospital staff that allegedly reported Herrera to the police.

Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas School of Law, said that abortion restriction laws like the one in Texas could produce similar outcomes in the future. “I think what this case really is is an ominous portent of what things are going to look like on the ground in states that have aggressive abortion restrictions,” he said

If the Supreme Court effectively ends Roe v. Wade in the coming months, it opens an avenue for red states to further criminalize abortion. In that scenario, women like Herrera may face criminal action for exercising their reproductive rights.

Herrera’s vindication is a victory. But women who need access to abortion care in red states could face an uphill legal battle in the near future. 

Marcus Johnson

Marcus Johnson is a political commentator and a political science Ph.D. candidate at American University. His primary research focus is the impact of political institutions on the racial wealth gap.