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A Texas woman has been charged with murder after a so-called 'self-induced abortion'

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

In South Texas, 26-year-old Lizelle Herrera is being charged with murder because of a, quote, "self-induced abortion." She's been arrested and will be arraigned Wednesday. The Starr County District Attorney's Office has yet to comment on the case. Here's Texas Public Radio's Carolina Cuellar with what we know.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Chanting in Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in Spanish).

CAROLINA CUELLAR, BYLINE: On Saturday, across the street from the Starr County Jail, a sparse crowd of pro-abortion rights activists chanted for Herrera's release.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Chanting in Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in Spanish).

CUELLAR: At the protest, Cathy Torres, the organizing manager for Frontera Fund, said based on what she knows about Herrera's case, it isn't likely to be unique.

CATHY TORRES: This is only setting a precedent for other cases. She's not the first. She won't be the last.

CUELLAR: She said many women in Texas are having to choose self-administered abortions because of the state's restrictive abortion legislation, like Senate Bill 8. While SB8 explicitly exempts pregnant women who get an abortion from criminal repercussions, it makes it nearly impossible to access abortion services in Texas, and many people are left with little to no legal options to terminate their pregnancy.

Steve Vladeck, who is a law professor at the University of Texas School of Law, said that based on current information, the murder charge doesn't make sense.

STEVE VLADECK: The Texas murder statute does apply to the killing of an unborn fetus, but it specifically exempts cases where the person who terminated the fetus is the pregnant woman.

CUELLAR: It's unclear whether Herrera induced her own abortion or assisted someone else's self-induced abortion. He said details like which statutes were used to charge her will help paint a clear picture of how prosecutors avoided the exemption if Herrera performed her own abortion. But right now, this information is unavailable. Nonetheless, Vladeck said Herrera's situation shows what will happen as legal protections around abortion crumble.

VLADECK: You know, I think what this case really is is an ominous portent of what things are going to look like on the ground in states that have aggressive abortion restrictions.

CUELLAR: Jessica Brand agrees. She's a former prosecutor and founder of The Wren Collective, a criminal justice nonprofit organization.

JESSICA BRAND: We've had a lot of wake-up calls in Texas for how far people are willing to go to prosecute women, to strip women of their rights.

CUELLAR: According to Brand, while legal ground for the case is shaky, it shows how legislation like SB8 emboldens people to push legal boundaries around abortion. She adds that as restrictions continue to grow, they will disproportionately affect marginalized communities, like those along the Texas-Mexico border. This is because they often lack the resources that would allow them to travel out of state and obtain safe medical abortion services.

BRAND: It's very, very dangerous. If they decide that a self-induced and termination of pregnancy is, in fact - qualifies as murder, you can imagine the horrific precedent that sets.

CUELLAR: Shortly after the protest, a legal defense fund covered Herrera's $500,000 bail. I'm Carolina Cuellar in Rio Grande City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.