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Lizelle Herrera arrest highlights rising tensions over Texas abortion laws

The case has ‘confounded activists on both sides of the abortion debate’

A 26-year-old woman has been released from a Texas prison after being arrested on a murder charge for a “self-induced abortion” last week, according to the local sheriff’s office. 

The “precise details of what happened” to Lizelle Herrera last week are “unclear”, said The Guardian, but “it appears that the hospital she attended reported her to authorities”. Her arrest “came as Texas becomes the flashpoint in a new wave of restrictive abortion laws” across US states, Sky News reported. 

“Abortion rights organizations quickly mobilized,” said The Washington Post. “About 20 people” led by the abortion assistance group La Frontera Fund gathered to demonstrate outside the county jail in Rio Grande City on Saturday, Reuters reported. 

State legislators introduced a controversial law last year that banned women from having an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected – “usually around six weeks, well before most women know they are pregnant”, said the Daily Mail. There are no exceptions for rape or incest, says the paper.

The legislation “has caused widespread outrage and created hundreds of so-called abortion refugees, with many women left with no option but to travel outside the state to terminate a pregnancy,” said Sky News. It has also “inspired copycat bills in other states”, added the Mail. 

Starr County district attorney (DA) Gocha Allen Ramirez dropped the criminal charges against Herrera on Sunday. Ramirez told Sky News that the sheriff’s department “did their duty in investigating the incident brought to their attention by the reporting hospital”, but “the only correct outcome to this matter is to immediately dismiss the indictment against Ms. Herrera”. 

The DA’s position – that Herrera “did not commit a criminal act” under the state’s laws – “correlates with the view of legal experts and women’s rights advocates who say that Herrera’s arrest should never have happened”, said The Guardian.

“The case had confounded activists on both sides of the abortion debate,” The Washington Post said. “It was not clear which legal statute Herrera was alleged to have violated” and under Texas law, women cannot be charged with criminal homicide for aborting a pregnancy. 

“The confusion over Herrera’s wrongful arrest is an indication of the tensions that are rising,” said The Guardian.

The case came as “Republican-led states across the country are passing a flurry of antiabortion legislation ahead of a Supreme Court decision this summer that could overturn or significantly weaken Roe v. Wade, the case that has protected the constitutional right to abortion for nearly 50 years”, reported The Washington Post.

The Guardian added: “All indications suggest” that the Supreme Court is “likely to rein back abortion rights at least to some degree”. 

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