Woman arrested on abortion charge sues Starr County DA

Good for her.

When a Texas woman was arrested and jailed for self-inducing an abortion in 2022, her name and mugshot were quickly broadcast around the world. Three days later, the Starr County prosecutor dropped the charges and was later disciplined for bringing them at all.

But for Lizelle Herrera, now Lizelle Gonzalez, the damage had been done. The “humiliation of a highly publicized indictment and arrest” has “permanently affected her standing in the community,” according to a new federal lawsuit filed Thursday.

Gonzalez is suing Starr County District Attorney Gocha Allen Ramirez and Assistant District Attorney Alexandria Lynn Barrera for more than $1 million. Prosecutors typically have wide-ranging immunity but the lawsuit alleges Ramirez and Barrera waived that when they undertook the investigation of this case and misled the grand jury.


According to the lawsuit, Gonzalez first went to the Starr County emergency room in January 2022. She was 19 weeks pregnant and, according to the lawsuit, had taken Cytotec, also known as misoprostol, to purportedly induce an abortion.

She was still registering a fetal heart rate, so she was sent home. The next day, she returned to the hospital by ambulance, complaining of abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding. There was no fetal cardiac activity, and she was diagnosed with an “incomplete spontaneous abortion” before she delivered the stillborn child by cesarean section.

At some point between those January visits and late March 2022, the lawsuit says, employees of Starr County Memorial Hospital told the Starr County District Attorney’s Office about Gonzalez’s attempted abortion. The allegations were investigated directly by Ramirez’s office, not the sheriff or the local police department, according to the filing.

Barrera and Ramirez then took their findings to a grand jury. The lawsuit says they “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.”

Gonzalez was arrested for murder on April 7, 2022, and incarcerated at the Starr County jail on a $500,000 bond. Her arrest made international news and mobilized activists across the country, led by organizers in the Rio Grande Valley. The lawsuit says she was taken to the hospital while incarcerated, although it does not say why.

Gonzalez was released on bail organized by national advocacy groups. Three days after she was arrested, Ramirez dropped the charges.

“In reviewing applicable Texas law, it is clear that Ms. Herrera cannot and should not be prosecuted for the allegation against her,” Ramirez said in a news release at the time.

This did little to quell the attention on the case, the lawsuit says.

“Because the charges stemmed from abortion – a hot button political agenda – the dismissal of the charges did not result in any less media attention,” it says. “Rather, the media attention was heightened after the dismissal due to the fact that the prosecution was frivolous.”

Gonzalez is asking for an excess of $1 million for the “deprivation of liberty, reputational harm, public humiliation, distress, pain, and suffering” she experienced as a result of this prosecution. No hearing dates have been set.

See here for the previous update. The basics of this are that Ms. Gonzalez was arrested for actions that are absolutely not illegal under Texas law, that the Starr County DA’s office knew that her actions were not illegal (or damn well ought to have known), that they didn’t bother to utilize law enforcement agencies to investigate before deciding to arrest her but investigated on their own, and that the result of their seemingly reckless actions were directly harmful to her above and beyond what a mere false arrest would have been. That’s why she’s suing. I have no idea how this will do with the “qualified immunity” obstacles that exist, but she is entirely justified in pursuing this and seeing where it goes. I wish her well.

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