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A woman in Texas, Lizelle Gonzalez, was falsely charged with murder over a self-induced abortion in 2022 and has filed a lawsuit against the local prosecutor’s office and its leaders seeking over $1 million in damages. Gonzalez was arrested and charged with murder after using the drug misoprostol to self-induce an abortion 19 weeks into her pregnancy. Texas law at the time made abortions after six weeks illegal, but pregnant women were exempt from criminal prosecution. Gonzalez argues that the arrest and charge resulted in reputational harm and distress, and seeks to hold government officials accountable for violating her rights.

The state bar of Texas found that the local prosecutor unlawfully prosecuted Ms. Gonzalez without probable cause and fined him $1,250. His law license will be held in probated suspension for a year. According to the complaint, Gonzalez took the abortion medication in January 2022 and went to the hospital for an examination, where a positive heartbeat was found for the baby. A day later, she returned to the hospital with complaints of vaginal bleeding, and doctors performed a C-section to deliver a stillborn child. Ms. Gonzalez says in the lawsuit that hospital employees reported her self-induced abortion to the district attorney’s office, violating federal privacy laws.

The lawsuit accuses the local law enforcement of not performing a sufficient investigation surrounding the murder charge against Ms. Gonzalez, relying only on reports from the hospital. The lawsuit argues that the hospital, the Starr County Sheriff’s Office, and the Rio Grande City Police Department misled the grand jury with false information to secure an indictment against her. The fallout from these actions has forever changed Ms. Gonzalez’s life, causing humiliation and affecting her standing in the community. The charge against Ms. Gonzalez was eventually dropped, with the local prosecutor acknowledging the toll the events took on her and her family.

The anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life supported the decision to drop the charges against Ms. Gonzalez, citing existing Texas laws that prohibit criminal charges for pregnant women. The indictment occurred before the overturning of Roe v. Wade and before Texas implemented a near-total ban on abortions. Law experts believe that Ms. Gonzalez’s lawsuit could raise awareness about the changing landscape of abortion laws in Texas and serve as a deterrent to other officials. However, there is concern that it may prompt the anti-abortion movement to lobby the Legislature to subject pregnant individuals to criminal or civil liability. The outcome of the lawsuit could have significant implications for reproductive rights in the state.

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