Texas woman arrested, charged with murder after abortion

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

This story out of Texas seemed to blow up last night on social media and it’s sure to have both sides in the ongoing abortion debate up in arms. While it’s unclear if this case is actually directly related to the recently passed abortion laws in the Lone Star State (it doesn’t look like it, at first glance), that will clearly be part of the ongoing protests. A 26-year-old woman named Lizelle Herrera from the Texas border town of Rio Grande City was arrested on murder charges and held on a half-million dollars bail yesterday. She is accused of causing “the death of an individual by self-induced abortion.” The Associated Press coverage of the story initially made it unclear if Herrera herself underwent the abortion or if she assisted someone else, but details that were revealed later seem to make it clear that it was her own child.

A 26-year-old woman has been charged with murder in Texas after authorities said she caused “the death of an individual by self-induced abortion,” in a state that has the most restrictive abortion laws in the U.S.

It’s unclear whether Lizelle Herrera is accused of having an abortion or whether she helped someone else get an abortion.

Herrera was arrested Thursday and remained jailed Saturday on a $500,000 bond in the Starr County jail in Rio Grande City, on the U.S.-Mexico border, sheriff’s Maj. Carlos Delgado said in a statement.

“Herrera was arrested and served with an indictment on the charge of Murder after Herrera did then and there intentionally and knowingly cause the death of an individual by self-induced abortion,” Delgado said.

Further clarity seemed to come from some additional media coverage on social media, where it was specified that Herrera had pursued a “self-induced” abortion “using pills.”

Abortion rights group Frontera Fund quickly jumped into the fray, demanding Herrera’s release and starting a fundraising effort to gather bail money to have her released. By early evening, sufficient funds were raised and the woman was sprung from the county jail.

There are so many questions swirling around this case that it’s hard to know where to begin. For starters, how was it that the Sheriff’s Department charged her with any form of homicide? Even under last year’s law banning abortions after six weeks, the mother is exempted from the law. Texas does have a law against so-called “back-alley” abortions, but when it’s done by or under the care of a medical provider, it can’t be prosecuted. And since Herrera allegedly did this using abortion-inducing pills, she couldn’t have gotten them over the counter. They must have been prescribed by a doctor.

Given all of those facts, this sounds like a charge that would be extremely difficult (if not impossible) to obtain a conviction on. But that leads us to another question. Particularly when you consider all of the medical privacy laws that remain in effect, how did the Sheriff even know that Herrera had undergone the procedure? Two possibilities come to mind, neither of which seem to be provable thus far. One is that some family member or associate of Herrera’s who knew about the incident and misunderstood the new law decided to report her to the authorities. If so, that doesn’t make the murder case against Herrera any more compelling.

The other possibility, however, is that Herrera turned herself in, perhaps hoping to be a “test case” for the new laws and draw attention to the issue. If that’s the case and she had any sort of competent legal counsel in advance, they probably figured that she had a slam-dunk in terms of getting out of the lockup quickly and beating the rap. But even if so, that seems like a rather heartless waste of a nascent human life just to create a political controversy.

I have the feeling we’ll be hearing a lot more from this story in the near future. Whether it was done intentionally or not, this situation is rapidly turning into yet another flashpoint in the ongoing war over abortion laws in Texas.