Texas Woman Sues Prosecutors Who Wrongfully Jailed Her Over Self-Managed Abortion

In 2022, Lizelle Gonzalez (then Herrera) faced murder charges for self-managing an abortion with pills. The charge was eventually dropped and she's now seeking $1 million in damages.

Texas Woman Sues Prosecutors Who Wrongfully Jailed Her Over Self-Managed Abortion

In the final weeks before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the case of Texas resident Lizelle Gonzalez—then Lizelle Herrera—sent shockwaves across the country. Gonzalez was wrongfully charged with murder for taking abortion pills in her 19th week of pregnancy and was jailed for two days before prosecutors dropped the charge against her because there was no case.

Two years later, Gonzalez is suing the Starr County prosecutors—District Attorney Gocha Allen Ramirez and Assistant District Attorney Alexandria Lynn Barrera—who launched the criminal case against her for $1 million in damages. Gonzalez’s suit cites the significant harm she faced from her arrest and incarceration as well as frenzied media coverage of the charges against her. 

“The fallout from Defendants’ illegal and unconstitutional actions has forever changed the Plaintiff’s life,” Gonzalez’s lawsuit states. The “humiliation of a highly publicized indictment and arrest” has “permanently affected her standing in the community,” and also subjected Gonzalez to “deprivation of liberty, reputational harm, public humiliation, distress, pain, and suffering.” With her lawsuit, Gonzalez wants “to hold accountable the government officials who violated them.”

The lawsuit also describes in further detail the events that led to her arrest. In January 2022, Gonzalez took misoprostol pills to induce a miscarriage and went to the hospital shortly afterward seeking help. Her lawsuit argues that Starr County Memorial Hospital violated her medical privacy by reporting her to the police on suspicion of having induced an abortion. At the time, even before Roe fell, Texas’ SB8 law banned abortion at about six weeks. Then and now, state laws don’t criminalize people who have or receive abortion care, only penalizing the abortion provider. But Herrera’s case is just one of several examples of how pregnant people can face pregnancy-related criminal charges even without an abortion ban. Her experience is also an indictment of how health care workers’ violations of medical privacy put pregnant patients at serious risk.

After hospital employees reported Gonzalez, prosecutors investigated her and brought her case before a grand jury. Then, Gonzalez’s lawsuit says Ramirez and Barrera “present[ed] false information and recklessly misrepresented facts in order to pursue murder charges against Plaintiff for acts clearly not criminal under the Texas Penal Code.” In April 2022, the Starr County Sheriff’s office told Jezebel that Herrera was alleged to have “intentionally and knowingly cause[d] the death of an individual by self-induced abortion.” Gonzalez was arrested on April 7, 2022, and was held in jail for two days on a $500,000 bond, which local organizers fundraised to cover. Her lawsuit also states Gonzalez was taken to the hospital during her time in jail without specifying the reason for this.

Ramirez’s office ultimately dropped the murder charge against Gonzalez, writing in a news release at the time, “In reviewing applicable Texas law, it is clear that Ms. Herrera cannot and should not be prosecuted for the allegation against her.” But Gonzalez’s lawsuit argues the damage was already done and the dropped charges didn’t help: “Because the charges stemmed from abortion—a hot button political agenda—the dismissal of the charges did not result in any less media attention. Rather, the media attention was heightened after the dismissal due to the fact that the prosecution was frivolous.”

Gonzalez’s lawsuit is just the latest development in the fallout of Starr County’s mistreatment of her. In February, the State Bar of Texas imposed a one-year suspension on Ramirez’s license and Ramirez agreed to pay a $1,250 fine. He conceded to the Associated Press he “made a mistake” and agreed to this punishment.

Gonzalez’s case reflects how even when criminal charges against people for the outcomes of their pregnancies are sometimes dropped, the ramifications for pregnancy-related criminal charges often follow people for years. In one case from 2009, a California woman who was investigated by police for keeping her miscarried embryo in her home for a planned bereavement ceremony lost her job and was forced to move away from her community despite ultimately not facing criminal charges. 

In April 2022, Ramirez acknowledged the long-term harm of his criminal case against Herrera even after dropping the charges: “Although with this dismissal Ms. Herrera [Gonzalez] will not face prosecution for this incident, it is clear to me that the events leading up to this indictment have taken a toll on Ms. Herrera and her family. To ignore this fact would be shortsighted,” he wrote, adding, “It is my hope that with the dismissal of this case it is made clear that Ms. Herrera did not commit a criminal act under the laws of the State of Texas.” Of course, Gonzalez’s lawsuit makes clear she’s continued to suffer from his office’s cruel mishandling of her case, now almost two years later. Here’s hoping Herrera’s lawsuit will deliver the damages she seeks—the barest minimum she deserves.

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