On Thursday, April 7, Texas police arrested a woman and charged her with murder for allegedly self-inducing an abortion using pills. The woman, 26-year old Lizelle Herrera who lives near the Texas-Mexico border, is being held in Starr County jail on a $500,000 bond.
“This arrest is inhumane. We are demanding the immediate release of Lizelle Herrera,” said Rockie Gonzalez, founder and board chair of Frontera Fund, a Rio Grande Valley-based abortion assistance fund. “What is alleged is that she was in the hospital and had a miscarriage and divulged some information to hospital staff, who then reported her to the police.”
La Frontera Fund held a protest outside the Starr County Jail on Saturday morning, April 9, demanding the immediate release of Herrera.
The murder charge is an extreme and unprecedented misuse of Texas law that is in direct conflict with the constitutional right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade in 1973. Texas does not have a law that makes self-inducing an abortion a crime (three states do—Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Nevada). Two recent laws restricting abortion in the state—Senate Bill 8 and Senate Bill 4—explicitly exempt pregnant women.
Senate Bill 8, enacted on September 1, 2021, purports to ban abortion at roughly six weeks with no exceptions for rape or incest. The law, however, is only enforceable by private parties bringing civil suits against people who “aid and abet” women to get an abortion and the law explicitly exempts pregnant women from prosecution. Federal and state courts have dismissed lawsuits attempting to block the law on grounds that it is not enforceable by the state.
Texas also enacted Senate Bill 4 on December 1, 2021, making it a crime for doctors to prescribe abortion pills to patients who are more than seven weeks pregnant or who mail abortion pills to a patient at any time of pregnancy. Violating the law is a felony punishable by up to two years in jail and a fine of $10,000. But the law applies only to doctors and explicitly exempts pregnant women from criminal penalties.
Despite these explicit exemptions, the Starr County Sheriff’s Office arrested and jailed Herrera “on the charge of murder after [she] did then and there intentionally and knowingly cause the death of an individual by self-induced abortion.”
The prosecution of Herrera is not the first time extreme, politically-motivated prosecutors have stretched the law in order to punish women who end their own pregnancies. The organization If/When/How, which fights to halt the criminalization of people who self-manage their abortions, has uncovered 18 arrests of people who end their own pregnancies and those who have supported them.
Prosecutors in these cases often use antiquated laws or laws meant to protect, not arrest, pregnant people, such as feticide laws that explicitly exempt pregnant women or other generally applicable laws such as child neglect, practicing medicine on oneself, or possession of a dangerous substance. People targeted are disproportionately low-income women, immigrants, Latinas, and Black women.
“We want people to know that this impacts low-income people of color communities the most when state legislators put restrictions on our reproductive rights,” Gonzales told Texas Public Radio.
In February 2021, the American Bar Association adopted a resolution against the criminalization of people for self-managed abortion or for any pregnancy outcome.
“As officers of the court, lawyers must take a bold, public stance against the misuse of the criminal legal system to police people’s reproductive lives,” said If/When/How’s Senior Legal and Policy Director Sara Ainsworth at the time. “Abortion and pregnancy loss are issues of health and human rights, and have no place in the criminal legal system.”