Texas Democrats Call On Law Enforcement To Ignore Abortion Bans
Hours after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade on Friday, the heads of the Texas Democratic Party called on local law enforcement officials to refuse to enforce laws banning abortion.
Texas Democratic Party chair Gilberto Hinojosa and vice chair Shay Wyrich Cathey called on Democratic sheriffs, district attorneys, county judges, county commissioners, constables and Texas mayors to “use your legal authority and discretion to refuse to enforce the provisions of Senate Bill 8, Senate Bill 4, and House Bill 1280: all new laws passed by our extremist, Republican-controlled legislature in 2021.”
Prosecutors have broad discretion in choosing which cases to pursue, Hinojosa and Cathey noted in their letter. District attorneys in Dallas County, Travis County, Nueces County, Fort Bend County and Bexar County have already promised “not to prosecute or criminalize personal healthcare decisions.”
There is also an effort in Austin to protect its residents from the state’s abortion ban. On Friday, Austin City Council members Jose “Chito” Vela and Vanessa Fuentes called for a special council meeting to pass a resolution that would prohibit city funds from being used to investigate or report abortion and would direct Austin police to designate abortion as their lowest priority for criminal investigation.
Texas, along with Missouri, was one of the first states to ban abortion on Friday, immediately after the Supreme Court ruling. “Abortion is now illegal in Texas,” the state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton, tweeted Friday. Although the state’s “trigger ban” on abortion goes into effect 30 days after a Supreme Court decision, Paxton appeared to be referring to pre-Roe abortion bans, which were never repealed by the Texas Legislature but were unenforceable while Roe was in effect.
The Texas law that goes into effect in 30 days mandates the harshest criminal penalties on abortion in the country. The law will make inducing or attempting an abortion a first-degree felony, punishable with up to life imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000. Although the law targets abortion providers, experts fear that the vague wording will lead to prosecution of people who pursue self-managed abortions, as well as abortion providers. An individual who self-manages an abortion is not legally subject to any prosecution except in Nevada, South Carolina and Oklahoma.
Texas is one of 13 states with trigger laws that passed earlier and put on standby awaiting the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe. In Wisconsin, another state with a trigger law, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne indicated on Friday that he would not enforce his state’s abortion ban. In Arizona, Julie Gunnigle, a candidate for county attorney in Maricopa County, recently told Bolts that she would “never prosecute a patient, a provider, or a family for choosing to have an abortion or any other reproductive decision.” Gunnigle is running against incumbent Rachel Mitchell, who is best known for grilling Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, on behalf of Senate Republicans at his confirmation hearing.
The extent to which prosecutors can keep abortion access available in states with trigger laws is still unclear. Even if prosecutors promise not to bring forth charges, many of the trigger laws don’t have statutes of limitations, meaning that abortion providers may fear punishment under a future prosecutor.