In Texas, a 26-year-old woman was charged with murder after authorities claimed she caused “the death of an individual by self-induced abortion” in the state with the strictest abortion laws in the country.
It’s unclear whether Lizelle Herrera is accused of having an abortion or of assisting another woman in having one.
Herrera was arrested on Thursday and remained in the Starr County jail in Rio Grande City, Texas, on a $500,000 bond on Saturday, according to sheriff’s Maj. Carlos Delgado.
“After Herrera did then and there intentionally and knowingly cause the death of an individual by self-induced abortion, Herrera was arrested and served with an indictment on the charge of Murder,” Delgado said. Delgado did not specify the law under which Herrera was charged. Because the case is still under investigation, he said no further information will be released until at least Monday.
According to University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck, she is not charged with criminal homicide because she aborted her own pregnancy.
“If the conduct charged is ‘conduct committed by the mother of the unborn child,’ (homicide) does not apply,” Vladeck explained.
The number of abortions in Texas has been drastically reduced thanks to a state law passed in 2021 that prohibits abortions for women as early as six weeks pregnant. Private citizens can sue doctors or anyone who assists a woman in getting an abortion under the law.
The woman who has the abortion is not subject to the law.
Self-induced abortions are still illegal in some states, according to Vladeck, “and there have been a handful of prosecutions here and there over the years.”
“Taking steps to terminate a fetus is murder in Texas, but when a medical provider does it, it can’t be prosecuted,” Vladeck said, citing Supreme Court rulings upholding the constitutionality of abortion.
The state law exemption was also mentioned by Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. “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, authorizes 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, as well as allowing the pills to be delivered by mail.
According to federal Food and Drug Administration regulations, medication abortions are not considered self-induced.
According to Vladeck, “you can only receive the medication under medical supervision.” “I realize this sounds strange because you are taking the pill yourself, but it is at least theoretically under the care of a provider.”
The abortion rights group Frontera Fund called for Herrera’s release in Rio Grande City on Saturday.
“We don’t know all the details surrounding this tragic event yet,” said Rockie Gonzales, the organization’s founder and board chair. “What we do know is that criminalizing 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.
The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice’s Texas State Director for Policy and Advocacy, Nancy Cárdenas Pea, 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,” Pea said, “but it may cause great harm to young people, low-income people, and communities of color, who are most likely to encounter or be reported to law enforcement.”