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Woman Who Was Charged With Murder After Abortion Sues Texas Prosecutor

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Woman Who Was Charged With Murder After Abortion Sues Texas Prosecutor

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A woman in Texas who was falsely charged with murder over a self-induced abortion in 2022 has filed a lawsuit against the local prosecutor’s office and its leaders, seeking more than $1 million in damages.

Lizelle Gonzalez was arrested in April 2022 in Starr County, near the southeastern border with Mexico, and charged with murder after using the drug misoprostol to self-induce an abortion, 19 weeks into her pregnancy. She spent two nights in jail before the charge was dropped.

Self-induced abortions can refer to those performed outside of professional medical care, including the use of abortion pills. Under Texas law at the time, abortions after six weeks were illegal, but pregnant women are exempt from criminal prosecution. (Health care professionals who provide abortion procedures and medication, and others who help someone get an abortion, can still be liable.)

Ms. Gonzalez, who was known as Lizelle Herrera and 26 at the time of her arrest, filed a complaint on Thursday against Starr County, along with its district attorney, Gocha Ramirez, and assistant district attorney, Alexandria Lynn Barrera. She argues that the arrest and charge resulted in her suffering reputational harm and distress, and seeks to “vindicate her rights but also to hold accountable the government officials who violated them,” according to her lawsuit.

Ms. Gonzalez and her lawyers were not immediately available for comment on Saturday.

Mr. Ramirez and Ms. Barrera also did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit. A month ago, the state bar of Texas found that Mr. Ramirez had unlawfully prosecuted Ms. Gonzalez without probable cause and fined him $1,250. His law license will also be held in probated suspension for a year, which means he must comply with specific requirements but can practice law during that time. That period starts April 1.

According to the complaint, Ms. Gonzalez took the abortion medication in January 2022 and went to the hospital for an examination. Doctors found a positive heartbeat for the baby and no contractions, so she was discharged the next day. But later that day, she returned to the hospital with complaints of vaginal bleeding, and doctors performed a C-section to deliver a stillborn child.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of misoprostol and mifepristone, another commonly used abortion pill, through 10 weeks of pregnancy, under the supervision of a health care provider. But the World Health Organization endorses self-induced abortions in pregnancies of up to 12 weeks without medical supervision.

Ms. Gonzalez says in the lawsuit that the hospital employees reported her self-induced abortion to the district attorney’s office, in violation of federal privacy laws, though her lawsuit does not name them or the hospital as defendants.

The lawsuit says that neither the Starr County Sheriff’s Office nor the Rio Grande City Police Department performed an investigation with sufficient facts or circumstances surrounding the murder charge against her, and only relied on reports from the hospital. Ms. Gonzalez also accuses them of misleading the grand jury with false information to secure an indictment against her.

“The fallout from defendants’ illegal and unconstitutional actions has forever changed” Ms. Gonzalez’s life, the complaint says. She “was subjected to the humiliation of a highly publicized indictment and arrest, which has permanently affected her standing in the community.”

When the charge against Ms. Gonzalez was dropped, Mr. Ramirez said that it was “clear” that she “cannot and should not be prosecuted for the allegation against her,” and acknowledged that “the events leading up to this indictment have taken a toll” on Ms. Gonzalez and her family. At the time, the anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life supported Mr. Ramirez’s decision to drop the charges, saying Texas’ law “clearly prohibit criminal charges for pregnant women.”

Ms. Gonzalez’s indictment occurred several months before the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and before Texas’ near-total ban on abortions went into effect. Even with the stricter ban, those who get an abortion cannot be criminally prosecuted.

Melissa Murray, a law professor at New York University, said Ms. Gonzalez’s lawsuit could serve to raise consciousness in Texas and beyond, to “understand that we are moving very quickly into a kind of dystopian, post-Dobbs landscape.”

“I think she could be very successful here,” Ms. Murray said of Ms. Gonzalez. “And if she isn’t, even if it doesn’t make it to trial, she could make him pay to settle this,” referring to Mr. Ramirez.

The lawsuit could act as a deterrent to other officials around the state, Ms. Murray said. But it could also “have the effect of spurring the anti-abortion movement to lobby the Legislature to actually make pregnant people subject to criminal or civil liability.”

Roni Caryn Rabin, Giulia Heyward and Sophie Kasakove contributed reporting.

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