Some prosecutors say they won’t enforce their states’ abortion bans

at the hours after the United States Supreme Court struck down Roe v. wade friday, dozens of prosecutors across the country have indicated that they refuse to enforce laws prohibiting abortion.

Prosecutors “are vested with immense discretion” and make decisions every day about how to allocate limited resources and which cases to prosecute,” a group of more than 80 prosecutors wrote in a joint statement Friday. “Criminalizing and prosecuting individuals who seek or provide abortion care is a travesty of justice; prosecutors should not be part of it,” the group said.

Many of these prosecutors are based in one of 13 states with so-called trigger laws that banned abortion as early as Roe v. Wade was canceled. Others work in states where abortion is still currently legal, but have taken their stand preemptively in case the laws change without Roe’s protection.

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Texas Democratic Party leaders called on local law enforcement to refuse to enforce the state abortion ban.

Alex Wong via Getty Images

Although prosecutors can protect individuals within their jurisdiction from criminal penalties while in office, relying on prosecutors is an imperfect solution to the Supreme Court’s erosion of abortion protections. Since many abortion bans do not have a statute of limitations, abortion providers may be reluctant to operate even in a jurisdiction with a supporting prosecutor for fear of being punished by a future prosecutor. Additionally, the patchwork of prosecutors who have indicated they will not prosecute abortion cases tend to be in more progressive cities and areas, leaving millions behind. But in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling, abortion rights advocates turned to prosecutors for reassurances.

Friday, Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa and Vice Chairman Shay Wyrich Cathey called on Democratic sheriffs, district attorneys, county judges, county commissioners, constables and mayors in Texas for “using your legal authority and discretion to refuse to enforce the provisions of Senate Bill 8 , Senate Bill 4, and House Bill 1280: All New Laws Passed by Our Extremist Republican-Controlled Legislature in 2021.” District Attorneys for Dallas County, Travis County, Nueces County, Fort Bend County and Bexar County have already promised “not to prosecute or criminalize personal health care decisions.”

There is also an effort in Austin to protect its residents from the state-imposed abortion ban. On Friday, Austin City Council members Jose “Chito” Vela and Vanessa Fuentes called for a special council meeting to pass a resolution prohibiting the use of city funds to investigate or report an abortion and directing the Austin police to designate abortion as their lowest priority for criminal investigation.

Texas, with Missouri, was one of the first states to ban abortion Friday, immediately after the Supreme Court decision. “Abortion is now illegal in Texas,” said state Attorney General Ken Paxton. tweeted Friday. Although the state’s “trigger ban” on abortion takes effect 30 days after a Supreme Court ruling, Paxton seemed to refer to the pre-Roe abortion bans, which were never repealed by the Texas legislature, but were unenforceable while Roe was in effect.

The Texas law, which takes effect in 30 days, imposes the toughest criminal penalties for abortion in the country. The law will make inducing or attempting an abortion a first-degree felony, punishable by life imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000. Although the law targets abortion providers, experts fear the vague wording could lead to lawsuits against those who sue self-managed abortions, as well as abortion providers. A person who manages an abortion themselves is not legally liable to prosecution, except in Nevada, South Carolina and Oklahoma.

Texas is one of 13 states with trigger laws that were passed earlier and put on hold pending the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe. In Louisiana, another state with a trigger law, Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams said he would not “change priorities” to prosecute abortion-related cases. In Wisconsin, where a Democratic governor is all that stands between anti-abortion legislation becoming law, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne noted Friday that he would not enforce the abortion ban.

The position of prosecutors on abortion-related prosecutions is likely to become a campaign issue in the upcoming election. In Arizona, Julie Gunnigle, candidate for Maricopa County district attorney, recently Told Bolts that she would “never sue a patient, provider, or family for choosing to have an abortion or any other reproductive decision.” Gunnigle is running against incumbent Rachel Mitchell, who is best known for grilling Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, on behalf of Senate Republicans during her hearing of confirmation. Arizona currently has a 15-week abortion ban, though without Roe’s protection, the Republican-controlled legislature could move to make the law more restrictive.

Learn more about the Supreme Court decision on abortion:

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