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Texas prosecutor to drop first-of-its-kind murder charge involving self-induced abortion

Starr County District Attorney Gocha Allen Ramirez said a South Texas woman “did not commit a criminal act under the laws of the state of Texas.”

(CN) — A murder charge against a South Texas woman involving a “self-induced abortion” will be dismissed Monday, prosecutors in Starr County announced three days after the 26-year-old’s arrest drew national attention and renewed fears from abortion rights activists over the state’s controversial set of abortion laws.

Starr County District Attorney Gocha Allen Ramirez, who charged Lizelle Herrera with murder on Thursday over a self-induced abortion, said in a statement approximately 72 hours later that he would file a motion Monday to immediately dismiss the indictment.

“In reviewing applicable Texas law, it is clear that Ms. Herrera cannot and should not be prosecuted for the allegation against her,” Ramirez said. In his statement, the district attorney defended the Starr County Sheriff’s Department for its criminal investigation, and the hospital in Rio Grande City that reported the incident to authorities.

"It is my hope that with the dismissal of this case it is made clear that Ms. Herrera did not commit a criminal act under the laws of the state of Texas," he said.

Few details have emerged since Herrera’s arrest began making national headlines over the weekend, and it is unclear whether she was charged with inducing an abortion on herself, or helping someone. But the case has brought renewed attention to the state’s abortion law, Senate Bill 8, which became the nation’s strictest abortion law when the U.S. Supreme Court allowed it to take effect last year, although it remains tied up in litigation.

Also known as the Texas Heartbeat Act, SB 8 contains a provision allowing for private citizens to sue anyone who “aids and abets” an individual obtain an abortion after six weeks of gestation. The law does not call for any criminal penalties, and the state’s penal code exempts women from criminal liability in connection with “the death of an unborn child.”

Herrera, who was accused in the indictment of knowingly causing the death of an individual identified only as J.A.H. "by a self-induced abortion," came under the radar of authorities in Rio Grande City, a rural and predominately Catholic community along the Texas-Mexico border, after a hospital reported the January abortion to the sheriff’s department, according to the district attorney.

She was held on a $500,000 bond after her Thursday arrest and released on bail Saturday, court records show. La Frontera Fund, a local abortion organization based in the Rio Grande Valley, posted her bail and said in a tweet that Herrera secured an attorney.

It is the first arrest of its kind in the seven months since SB 8 went into effect.

“We are overjoyed that authorities have course corrected and that DA Gocha Ramirez filed to drop charges against Lizelle Herrera,” said Frontera Fund founder Rockie Gonzalez. “We put a spotlight on Starr County authorities and they backed down. However, course correction is not justice.”

Gonzalez said the case brought to light clear violations of “an officer’s duty to serve and protect,” as well as patient confidentiality breaches. She noted that the trauma endured by Herrera and her family “will be long lasting.”

“There was nothing dutiful, simple or practical about how Lizelle ended up in jail facing murder charges and a half a million dollar bail. Just no,” she said.

Gonzalez’s group, which pays for abortion procedures and offers support for people who have to travel for abortion care, staged a small protest outside of the Starr County Jail and mobilized a phone call campaign to push for Herrera’s release.

In June, the Supreme Court is expected to rule in a Mississippi abortion case that could result in the overturning of Roe v. Wade with a 6-3 conservative majority. At present, 18 states have near-total bans, including Texas, Mississippi and Arkansas.

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