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Dozens of elected prosecutors say they will refuse to prosecute abortion care

NBC News logo NBC News 6/25/2022 Zoë Richards and Safia Samee Ali
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Dozens of elected prosecutors said Friday they would refuse to prosecute those seeking, assisting or providing abortions after the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 ruling that guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion.

Prosecutors from 29 states, territories and Washington, D.C., signed a joint statement that included signatories from states like Mississippi, Missouri and Wisconsin that have banned or are poised 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,” said the statement signed by 84 prosecutors, a group that included district attorneys and state attorneys general. “But we stand together in our firm belief that prosecutors have a responsibility to refrain from using limited criminal legal system resources to criminalize personal medical decisions. As such, we decline to use our offices’ resources to criminalize reproductive health decisions and commit to exercise our well-settled discretion and refrain from prosecuting those who seek, provide, or support abortions.”

The prosecutors said enforcing abortion bans would also "hinder our ability to hold perpetrators accountable, take resources away from the enforcement of serious crime, and inevitably lead to the retraumatization and criminalization of victims of sexual violence."

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Abortion bans have already been enacted in Kentucky, Louisiana, South Dakota and Missouri, with laws that would make it possible to charge abortion providers with some class of felony.

Joe Gonzalez, a district attorney in Bexar County, Texas, which includes San Antonio, said “using limited resources to prosecute personal healthcare decisions would be a violation” of his oath.

“Outlawing abortion will not end abortion; it will simply end safe abortions and prevent people from seeking the care and help they need for fear of criminal prosecution. I refuse to subject members of my community to that risk,” Gonzalez said in a statement.

Four other prosecutors from Texas signed the joint statement.

Texas is one of the 13 states with so-called trigger laws, which were designed to snap into effect immediately or soon after a Roe reversal.

In Missouri, another "trigger law" state, a statute that took effect Friday prohibits doctors from performing abortions and also makes it a felony to knowingly induce an abortion, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Wesley Bell, prosecuting attorney for St. Louis County, was among those who signed Friday's joint statement saying they would not pursue charges against those involved with abortions.

Bell was the only prosecutor from Missouri to sign the statement 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, she said in a statement, are "the last line of defense" in efforts to shield patients and providers from criminal charges as states begin banning the procedure.

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