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Travis County DA won’t prosecute abortion seekers or providers

A person in a crowd holds up a sign that says, "424,000 kids in foster care and you're worried about my body?"
Patricia Lim
/
KUT
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered at the Pan American Neighborhood Park for A Rally for Reproductive Freedom on Sunday.

Travis County District Attorney José Garza said he won’t use his office’s limited resources to prosecute people who seek, provide or support abortions.

“Here in Travis County, we will not force women into the shadows — especially when they need lifesaving medical care,” he said at a news conference Monday. “Here in Travis County, we will not criminalize personal health care decisions.”

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling Friday threw out the constitutional right to an abortion. In the coming weeks, a "trigger law" that bans all abortions except in cases where the pregnant person could die or face “substantial impairment of a major bodily function” is expected to go into effect in Texas. No exceptions were made for the case of rape.

Garza said threatening to prosecute women seeking abortion services will drive them to dangerous alternatives and lead to higher rates of maternal death. He said that’s not in line with the role of a district attorney.

“The number one responsibility of any district attorney is to keep our community safe,” he said. “Our communities are safer when women and families can make personal health care and reproductive decisions without the threat of interference from the state.”

Garza was one of more than 80 elected prosecutors across the country — including four others from Texas — who issued a joint statement saying they would not use their offices to criminalize reproductive health decisions. The statement said enforcing abortion bans would, among other things, erode trust in the legal system, take resources away from enforcing serious crimes and retraumatize victims of sexual violence.

Neva Fernandez, the director of the Victim Services Unit in the D.A.'s office, said her office has seen victims as young as 10 impregnated by their rapists. She said while that child was able to get a safe abortion, many victims will no longer be able to.

“Females with means will always be able to get an abortion," Fernandez said. “They or their parents will pay for a plane ticket and they will get the medical attention they need. The women and children who will experience forced pregnancies — and that’s what this is, forced pregnancies — will be those with the least resources.”

Fernandez said the trauma of a rape can extend after a child's birth if the victim is forced to share custody of the child with her rapist. They could even lose custody.

Garza implored those who need medical assistance to seek it, but providers, like Whole Woman’s Health, have already stopped offering abortion services. On Monday, they joined with other abortion providers in a lawsuit suing the state of Texas for banning abortions based on pre-Roe law, which they say was found to be unconstitutional.

Sangita Menon is a general assignment reporter for KUT. Got a tip? Email her at smenon@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @sangitamenon.
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