NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE. – While the Supreme Court appears to be on track to overturn the constitutional right to abortion, progressive US prosecutors are saying they will not enforce some of the most restrictive and punishable anti-abortion laws that GOP-led states have waited years to enact to have.
The move is sure to anger Republican lawmakers and governors, as about half of states stand ready to ban abortion if Roe v. Wade — the 1973 decision establishing a constitutional right to abortion — is weakened or overturned. Many of these Republican-run states have abortion clinics in major metropolitan areas that are represented by Democratic district attorneys.
Anti-abortion laws in the US have largely shied away from specifically punishing pregnant women, instead targeting doctors who could face losing their medical license and long prison terms if they illegally perform the procedure. But some abortion restrictions would penalize those who assist with an abortion, and others might require women who secured the procedure to testify against those who assisted her.
But enforcement of those laws will fall largely on the shoulders of prosecutors who exercise great discretion who to charge with crimes. Currently, it’s not uncommon for prosecutors elected in Democratic counties to express opposition to indictments under various GOP-backed mandates – from voting restrictions, restrictions on certain protest activities, laws on LGBTQ people, and restrictions on mask requirements throughout the country COVID -19 outbreak.
In 2020, more than 70 blue county prosecutors across the country announced they would not pursue indictments over increasingly strict laws states have enacted against abortion because they “should not and will not criminalize health care decisions.”
And so far, a growing number of prosecutors elected in Democratic counties are promising they will not pursue criminal charges tucked into the harshest abortion restrictions.
Michigan has become a particular battleground over who will enforce the state’s abortion laws. Seven Democratic prosecutors there have vowed they will not enforce the state’s long-dormant ban on the procedure, while two Republican prosecutors have joined anti-abortion advocates to overturn the recent suspension of the 1931 law.
The law criminalizing assisted abortion has not had any practical effect for decades since abortion was legalized nationwide.
“These archaic laws are unconstitutional and dangerously vague, leaving open the potential to criminalize doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, health care providers, office workers — virtually anyone who either performs or assists in performing these medical procedures. Even the patient herself could be prosecuted under these laws,” prosecutors for the Detroit, Lansing, Flint and Ann Arbor areas wrote in a letter.
In GOP-controlled Tennessee, Democratic District Attorney for Nashville Glenn Funk issued a statement just hours after the leaked draft opinion was released in early May. Funk pledged that he would stand by his current position of not prosecuting doctors who perform abortions or pregnant women who seek the procedure.
“I am appalled that this attack on a woman’s personal health choices is under threat. I stand by my previous statement,” Funk said a day before winning the Democratic primary over two opponents who declined to say whether they would indict doctors.
Funk’s longstanding opposition to enforcement of the state’s abortion laws and several others has already drawn backlash from Tennessee’s Republican leaders. Late last year, the General Assembly passed legislation allowing the Attorney General to intervene in local cases — including abortion charges. The law allows the state attorney general to request the Tennessee Supreme Court to appoint an interim prosecutor when the district attorney has “resolutely and categorically” declined to prosecute a case.
So far, the Attorney General’s Office has not made use of the new law. Meanwhile, the state’s top Republican leaders, who oversee all major political offices, have remained silent on Funk’s defiant stance, and his office has declined to answer follow-up questions.
The National Right to Life Committee, which advocates for abortion restrictions, has developed a model law in the event Roe is tipped that would, among other things, empower attorneys general to press charges in abortion cases if local prosecutors refuse.
Chief prosecutors representing some of Texas’ most populous counties recently released a joint statement urging elected prosecutors to resist bringing charges that would “criminalize personal health decisions.”
Like Tennessee, Texas is among 13 states that have so-called trigger laws — measures that would ban most abortions and would take effect almost automatically should the country’s highest court overthrow the Roe. This verdict is expected to be published in late June or early July.
“Many of these regulations have the potential to fuel attempts by some to criminalize patients, medical professionals, health care providers and others who assist with these medical procedures,” wrote prosecutors, whose reach includes Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and parts of Houston .
The statement came just weeks after a Texas woman was arrested after a grand jury charged her with murder for allegedly causing “the death of a person … by self-induced abortion.” Starr County District Attorney Gocha Allen Ramirez quickly requested that the charges be dropped, pointed out that the woman had not violated any state laws. Still, the incident only cemented abortion rights advocates’ warnings that prosecutors will be key to how anti-abortion laws are enforced at the local level.
Such decisions come as these attorneys often have to win elections to become the chief prosecutor in their communities. While many Republican hopefuls have publicly stated their intention to fully enforce the toughest anti-abortion laws, Democratic candidates hope their opposition will be enough to attract enough voters in key states.
In Arizona, Democrat Julie Gunningle was quick to announce that she would not prioritize prosecuting doctors or pregnant women in their bid to become an attorney in Maricopa County, which includes the greater Phoenix area. Kris Mayes, the only Democrat running for Arizona’s attorney general, has also pledged that she will not prosecute abortion cases in a state that has both a pre-state law making all abortions illegal and a new law which was signed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey banned abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Both seats were previously held by Republicans.
In Missouri, which has only one clinic — based in St. Louis — that offers abortions statewide, progressive prosecutors have balked at making public statements promising to defy anti-abortion laws enacted by Republican lawmakers . Instead, they warn that the state’s trigger law will cause a “crooked trajectory.”
If Roe v. Wade is crushed, St. Louis County Attorney Wesley Bell, a Democrat, said, “It’s going to be an open season and it’s going to have a disproportionate impact on poor people — black people and brown people, but even poor white people.” “
Associated Press writers Bob Christie of Phoenix and Jim Salter of St. Louis, Missouri contributed to this report.
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https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/06/16/if-roe-falls-some-das-wont-enforce-anti-abortion-laws/ If Roe falls, some prosecutors will not enforce anti-abortion laws