80+ US prosecutors vow not to be part of criminalizing abortion care

80+ US prosecutors vow not to be part of criminalizing abortion care
Abortions rights demonstrators in Washington, D.C. in 2016, Wikimedia Commons

Following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision Friday to overturn Roe v. Wade, which had an immediate impact on pregnant people in Republican-controlled states with "trigger bans," more than 80 elected attorneys from around the country vowed not to prosecute individuals who seek, assist in, or provide abortion care.

"Criminalizing and prosecuting individuals who seek or provide abortion care makes a mockery of justice," says a joint statement signed by 84 district attorneys and attorneys general. "Prosecutors should not be part of that."

More than half of all U.S. states are expected to end or drastically restrict legal access to abortions in the coming weeks, a process that began just minutes after the high court's right-wing justices struck down Roe in a 6-3 ruling.

"As elected prosecutors, ministers of justice, and leaders in our communities, we cannot stand by and allow members of our community to live in fear of the ramifications of this deeply troubling decision," says the statement, organized by Fair and Just Prosecution.

"Not all of us agree on a personal or moral level on the issue of abortion," says the statement, signed by prosecutors representing more than 87 million people in communities across the nation, including over 27 million in states where abortion rights have been, or will soon be, eradicated.

"But we stand together in our firm belief that prosecutors have a responsibility to refrain from using limited criminal legal system resources to criminalize personal medical decisions," the statement continues. "As such, we decline to use our offices' resources to criminalize reproductive health decisions and commit to exercise our well-settled discretion and refrain from prosecuting those who seek, provide, or support abortions."

Miriam Krinsky, executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, said that "by cruelly and callously stripping away a 50-year-old fundamental right," the Supreme Court's reactionary majority "has undermined the legitimacy of the criminal legal system and trust in the rule of law."

"With many states now seeking to criminalize those who seek, perform, and receive abortion care, elected prosecutors are the last line of defense in protecting patients and providers from criminal charges," said Krinsky. "At this frightening and dark moment, we desperately need the bold leadership demonstrated by these signatories—and hope to see far more prosecutors across the country join this chorus."

Read the full letter and list of signatories below:

We are a group of elected prosecutors representing communities across every region of the country. Over the past few years, we have watched with increasing concern as the constitutional right to abortion has been threatened and eroded. Now, the Supreme Court’s decision to end the federally protected constitutional right to abortion first established five decades ago in Roe v. Wade — a right that three generations of Americans have come of age relying upon — means that abortions will immediately or soon be banned, and potentially criminalized, in at least half of our nation’s states. As elected prosecutors, ministers of justice, and leaders in our communities, we cannot stand by and allow members of our community to live in fear of the ramifications of this deeply troubling decision.
Not all of us agree on a personal or moral level on the issue of abortion. But we stand together in our firm belief that prosecutors have a responsibility to refrain from using limited criminal legal system resources to criminalize personal medical decisions. As such, we decline to use our offices’ resources to criminalize reproductive health decisions and commit to exercise our well- settled discretion and refrain from prosecuting those who seek, provide, or support abortions. Prosecutors are entrusted with immense discretion. With this discretion comes the obligation to seek justice. And at the heart of the pursuit of justice is the furtherance of policies and practices that protect the well-being and safety of all members of our community.
Prosecutors make decisions every day about how to allocate limited resources and which cases to prosecute. Indeed, our communities have entrusted us to use our best judgment in deciding how and if to leverage the criminal legal system to further the safety and well-being of all, and we are ethically bound to pursue those interests in every case.
Enforcing abortion bans runs counter to the obligations and interests we are sworn to uphold. It will erode trust in the legal system, hinder our ability to hold perpetrators accountable, take resources away from the enforcement of serious crime, and inevitably lead to the retraumatization and criminalization of victims of sexual violence.
Criminalizing abortion will not end abortion; it will simply end safe abortions, forcing the most vulnerable among us — as well as medical providers — to make impossible decisions. Abortion bans will isolate people from the law enforcement, medical, and social resources they need. When individuals know that they or someone they love could be investigated and prosecuted for having an abortion, they are far less likely to call for help in the event of an emergency. Prosecutors, police, and our medical partners cannot do our jobs when many victims and witnesses of crime or other emergencies are unwilling to work with us for fear that their private medical decisions will be criminalized.
Our criminal legal system is already overburdened. As elected prosecutors, we have a responsibility to ensure that these limited resources are focused on efforts to prevent and address serious crimes, rather than enforcing abortion bans that divide our community, create untenable choices for patients and healthcare providers, and erode trust in the justice system. Enforcing abortion bans would mean taking time, effort, and resources away from the prosecution of the most serious crimes — conduct that truly impacts public safety.
Abortion bans will also disproportionately harm victims of sexual abuse, rape, incest, human trafficking, and domestic violence. Over the past several decades, law enforcement has rightly worked to adopt evidence-based, trauma-informed approaches that recognize that not all victims of such crimes are able or willing to immediately report, and that delays in reporting or a reticence to report are consistent with the experience of trauma. As prosecutors, we also know that the process of reporting can be retraumatizing for many survivors.
We are horrified that some states have failed to carve out exceptions for victims of sexual violence and incest in their abortion restrictions; this is unconscionable. And, even where such exceptions do exist, abortion bans still threaten the autonomy, dignity, and safety of survivors, forcing them to choose between reporting their abuse or being connected to their abuser for life. Laws that revictimize and retraumatize victims go against our obligation as prosecutors to protect and seek justice on behalf of all members of our community, including those who are often the most vulnerable and least empowered. Our obligation to exercise our discretion wisely requires us to focus prosecutorial resources on the child molester or rapist, not on prosecuting the victim or the healthcare professionals who provide that victim with needed care and treatment. Keeping communities safe inherently requires promoting trust and faith in the integrity of the rule of law.6 To best promote public safety, prosecutors must be perceived by their communities as trustworthy, legitimate, and fair — values that would be undermined by the enforcement of laws that criminalize deeply personal decisions, harm those most in need of our help, and force unnecessarily difficult and traumatizing decisions on many in our community.
As elected prosecutors, when we stand in court, we have the privilege and obligation to represent “the people.” All members of our communities are our clients – they elected us to represent them and we are bound to fight for them as we carry out our obligation to pursue justice. Our legislatures may decide to criminalize personal healthcare decisions, but we remain obligated to prosecute only those cases that serve the interests of justice and the people.
Criminalizing and prosecuting individuals who seek or provide abortion care makes a mockery of justice; prosecutors should not be part of that.
Patsy Austin-Gatson
District Attorney, Gwinnett Judicial Circuit, Georgia

Diana Becton
District Attorney, Contra Costa County, California

Wesley Bell
Prosecuting Attorney, St. Louis County, Missouri

Buta Biberaj
Commonwealth’s Attorney, Loudoun County, Virginia

Sherry Boston
District Attorney, DeKalb County, Georgia

Chesa Boudin
District Attorney, City and County of San Francisco, California

Alvin Bragg
District Attorney, New York County (Manhattan), New York

Aisha Braveboy
State’s Attorney, Prince George’s County, Maryland

Danny Carr
District Attorney, Jefferson County, Alabama

Christian Champagne
District Attorney, 6th Judicial District, Colorado

John T. Chisholm
District Attorney, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin

John Choi
County Attorney, Ramsey County, Minnesota

Dave Clegg
District Attorney, Ulster County, New York

Shameca Collins
District Attorney, 6th Judicial District, Mississippi

Shalena Cook Jones
District Attorney, Chatham County (Savannah), Georgia

David Cooke
District Attorney, Macon Judicial Circuit, Georgia

John Creuzot
District Attorney, Dallas County, Texas

Satana Deberry
District Attorney, Durham County, North Carolina

Parisa Dehghani-Tafti
Commonwealth’s Attorney, Arlington County and the City of Falls Church, Virginia

Steve Descano
Commonwealth’s Attorney, Fairfax County, Virginia

Joshua R. Diamond
Acting Attorney General, Vermont

Michael Dougherty
District Attorney, 20th Judicial District (Boulder), Colorado

Matt Ellis
District Attorney, Wasco County, Oregon

Keith Ellison
Attorney General, Minnesota

Ramin Fatehi
Commonwealth’s Attorney, City of Norfolk, Virginia

Kimberly M. Foxx
State’s Attorney, Cook County (Chicago), Illinois

Glenn Funk
District Attorney, Nashville, Tennessee

José Garza
District Attorney, Travis County (Austin), Texas

George Gascón
District Attorney, Los Angeles County, California

Sarah F. George
State’s Attorney, Chittenden County (Burlington), Vermont

Joe Gonzales
District Attorney, Bexar County (San Antonio), Texas

Deborah Gonzalez
District Attorney, Western Judicial Circuit (Athens), Georgia

Eric Gonzalez
District Attorney, Kings County (Brooklyn), New York

Mark Gonzalez
District Attorney, Nueces County (Corpus Christi), Texas

Andrea Harrington
District Attorney, Berkshire County, Massachusetts

Maura Healey
Attorney General, Massachusetts

John Hummel
District Attorney, Deschutes County, Oregon

Natasha Irving
District Attorney, 6th Prosecutorial District, Maine

Melinda Katz
District Attorney, Queens County, New York

Alexis King
District Attorney, 1st Judicial District, Colorado

Zach Klein
City Attorney, Columbus, Ohio

Lawrence S. Krasner
District Attorney, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

David Leyton
Prosecuting Attorney, Genesee County, Michigan

Rebecca Like
Prosecuting Attorney, County of Kaua’i, Hawaii

Edward E. Manibusan
Attorney General, Northern Mariana Islands

Brian Mason
District Attorney, 17th Judicial District, Colorado

Beth McCann
District Attorney, 2nd Judicial District (Denver), Colorado

Karen McDonald
Prosecuting Attorney, Oakland County, Michigan

Colette McEachin
Commonwealth’s Attorney, Richmond, Virginia

Gordon McLaughlin
District Attorney, 8th Judicial District, Colorado

Ryan Mears
Prosecuting Attorney, Marion County (Indianapolis), Indiana

Brian Middleton
District Attorney, Fort Bend County, Texas

Stephanie Morales
Commonwealth’s Attorney, Portsmouth, Virginia

Michael W. Morrissey
District Attorney, Norfolk County, Massachusetts

Marilyn J. Mosby
State’s Attorney, Baltimore City, Maryland

Jamie Mosser
State’s Attorney, Kane County, Illinois

Dana Nessel
Attorney General, Michigan

Jody Owens
District Attorney, Hinds County, Mississippi

Alonzo Payne
District Attorney, 12th Judicial District (San Luis), Colorado

Joseph Platania
Commonwealth’s Attorney, City of Charlottesville, Virginia

Bryan Porter
Commonwealth’s Attorney, City of Alexandria, Virginia

Dalia Racine
District Attorney, Douglas County, Georgia

Karl Racine
Attorney General, District of Columbia

Eric Rinehart
State’s Attorney, Lake County (Waukegan), Illinois

Mimi Rocah
District Attorney, Westchester County, New York

Jeff Rosen
District Attorney, Santa Clara County, California

Marian Ryan
District Attorney, Middlesex County, Massachusetts

Dan Satterberg
Prosecuting Attorney, King County (Seattle), Washington

Eli Savit
Prosecuting Attorney, Washtenaw County (Ann Arbor), Michigan

Mike Schmidt
District Attorney, Multnomah County (Portland), Oregon

Daniella Shorter
District Attorney, 22nd Judicial District, Mississippi

Carol Siemon
Prosecuting Attorney, Ingham County (Lansing), Michigan

Jack Stollsteimer
District Attorney, Delaware County, Pennsylvania

David Sullivan
District Attorney, Northwestern District, Massachusetts

Shannon Taylor
Commonwealth’s Attorney, Henrico County, Virginia

Raúl Torrez
District Attorney, Bernalillo County (Albuquerque), New Mexico

Suzanne Valdez
District Attorney, Douglas County (Lawrence), Kansas

Matthew Van Houten
District Attorney, Tompkins County (Ithaca), New York

Andrew Warren
State Attorney, 13th Judicial Circuit (Tampa), Florida

Phil Weiser
Attorney General, Colorado

Matthew J. Wiese
Prosecuting Attorney, Marquette County, Michigan

Jared Williams
District Attorney, Augusta Judicial Circuit, Georgia

Jason Williams
District Attorney, Orleans Parish, Louisiana

Todd Williams
District Attorney, Buncombe County (Asheville), North Carolina

**Additional elected prosecutors interested in joining the statement should contact FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky at mkrinsky@fairandjustprosecution.org to be added.

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