Dozens of elected prosecutors said Friday they would refuse to prosecute those who seek, assist or provide abortions after the Supreme Court overturned a 1973 ruling guaranteeing the constitutional right to abortion.
Prosecutors from 29 states, territories, and Washington, DC, signed a joint declaration that included signatories from states like Mississippi, Missouri and Wisconsin that have banned or are about to ban abortion services following the reversal of Roe v. Wade.
“Not all of us agree on a personal or moral level on the issue of abortion,” says the statement signed by 84 prosecutors, a group that included district attorneys and state attorneys general. “But we stand united in our strong belief that prosecutors have a responsibility to refrain from using the limited resources of the criminal legal system to criminalize personal medical decisions. As such, we refuse to use the resources of our offices to criminalize reproductive health decisions and are committed to exercising our well-established discretion and refraining from prosecuting those who seek, provide or support abortions.”
Prosecutors said enforcing abortion bans would also “hinder our ability to hold perpetrators accountable, take resources away from serious crime enforcement, and inevitably lead to the retraumatization and criminalization of victims of sexual violence.”
Abortion bans have already been enacted in Kentucky, Louisiana, South Dakota and Missouri, with laws that would allow abortion providers to be charged with some sort of felony.
Joe Gonzalez, a district attorney in Bexar County, Texas, which includes San Antonio, said “using limited resources to process personal health care decisions would be a violation” of his oath.
“Banning abortion will not end abortion; it will simply end safe abortions and prevent people from seeking the care and help they need out of fear of criminal prosecution. I refuse to subject members of my community to that risk,” González said in a statement.
Four other Texas prosecutors signed the joint statement.
Texas is one of 13 states with so-called trigger laws, which were designed to take effect immediately or shortly after a Roe reversal.
In Missouri, another state with a “trigger law,” a statute that took effect Friday bans doctors from performing abortions and also makes it a felony to knowingly induce an abortion, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell was among those who signed Friday’s joint statement saying they would not pursue charges against people involved in abortions.
Bell was the only Missouri prosecutor to sign the declaration organized by Fair and Just Prosecution, a liberal group that advocates for criminal justice reform.
Miriam Krinsky, the group’s executive director, called the Supreme Court’s abortion decision “a jarring betrayal” of generations of Americans.
Elected prosecutors, he said in a statement, are “the last line of defense” in efforts to protect patients and providers from criminal charges as states begin to ban the procedure.
Safia Samee Ali contributed.