As abortion bans go into effect in states across the United States following last Friday’s Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade—the 1973 landmark decision that established the constitutional right to an abortion—some district attorneys are vowing not to prosecute abortion cases.
According to a new CNN review, more than one-third of the district attorneys representing the twenty-five most populous counties in states that have banned or are set to ban abortion have publicly promised not to prosecute abortion cases. Many of them have signed a joint statement in which they committed to “refrain from prosecuting those who seek, provide, or support abortions.”
“A prosecutor's job is to protect public safety, and to enforce this law will not only fail to promote or protect public safety but will also lead to more harm,” José Garza, the district attorney of Travis County, Texas, which includes Austin, said in a statement.
Rachel Barkow, a New York University law school professor who has studied prosecutors’ role in the criminal justice system, told the news outlet that “a prosecutor really does have a lot of discretion to decide their priorities and cases.”
However, “they could get voted out of office, or states could give the authority to prosecute to someone else,” she continued.
Despite the assurances from prosecutors, abortion providers still could likely be “concerned that that's not sufficiently concrete and permanent,” she added.
Meanwhile, several of the nation’s governors, including Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington state, are taking preemptive actions to shield individuals from prosecution who travel out of state to have abortions.
Per the Associated Press, Inslee on Thursday issued a directive instructing the Washington State Patrol to not cooperate with out-of-state abortion investigations. These include most subpoenas, search warrants, or court orders from states with laws that ban or significantly restrict abortion access.
“Washington is and will remain a sanctuary for any person seeking abortion care and services in our state, but we must act to protect our rights and our values,” the Democratic governor wrote in his directive.
“To that end, it is critical that our law enforcement agencies not cooperate in any manner with any out-of-state investigation, prosecution, or other legal action based on another state's law that is inconsistent with Washington's protections of the right to choose abortion and provide abortion-related care,” he continued.
Days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) acknowledged that the chamber’s Democrats are exploring a bill that aims to protect personal data stored on reproductive health apps, ensure the right to freely travel between states, and codify the right to an abortion.
“This weekend, the American people spoke out in person and in large numbers about their opposition to the Supreme Court’s disrespect for a woman’s freedom over her reproductive health,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to fellow House Democrats.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Finance and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.