ACLU: Battle to Hold Prosecutors, Law Enforcement Accountable for Post-Abortion Unlawful Murder Indictment and Constitutional Violations   

By Estrella Torres

MCALLEN, TX – Lizelle Gonzalez, an innocent community member, has faced an unlawful indictment for the murder of her child after taking abortion measures, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU is charging this week that, despite knowing pregnant women are exempt from criminal prosecution under Texas law, the Starr County district attorney, knowingly and willfully prosecuted Gonzalez, leaving her ineligible to claim legal immunity.

According to the ACLU, “Texas law clearly prohibits the criminal prosecution of pregnant women for conduct that ends their pregnancy.”

Gonzalez is a “mother of three, a sister, a daughter, and an integral member of our community,” details the ACLU. She had taken abortion medication in 2022 during her pregnancy. 

Shortly after, the Starr County district attorney, assistant district attorney, and sheriff launched a criminal investigation against her, leading to her unlawful prosecution where she was arrested, charged, and served jail time, added the ACLU.

The district attorney filed a motion to dismiss Gonzalez’s initial lawsuit which challenged the “unlawful investigation prosecution,” states the ACLU. 

In response, the ACLU, the Texas ACLU, and a Texas firm filed an opposition to dismiss the motion claiming, “Defendants conspired to investigate, indict, arrest, and jail Plaintiff Lizelle Gonzalez for murder even though they knew her conduct could not amount to a criminal offense under Texas law.” 

After the Texas Bar initiated an investigation, they declared that the district attorney engaged in professional misconduct, including “lying in his response to the bar’s investigation and for prosecuting a murder charge against Ms. Gonzalez that he knew was unsupported by probable cause” notes the ACLU, referring to it as an “egregious misconduct.” 

The district attorney continues to exercise his power to investigate and prosecute, operating as the chief prosecutor in the county, said the ACLU. 

Although the murder charges against Gonzales were eventually dropped, the ACLU maintains her constitutional rights were violated as the “government officials who caused her harm have yet to be held accountable for the misconduct” (and argues) while our “legal system gives prosecutors and law enforcement expansive authority,” there was a “blatant abuse of power.”

An attorney at Garza Martinez Law Firm, working with the ACLU asserts, “The actions of the Starr County district attorney, assistant district attorney, and sheriff put our client’s private life on display for the whole world: It was traumatizing, humiliating, and impacted her life forever.”

The firm added the county “unlawfully prosecuted at one of the most difficult and personal times in her life…our community is diverse – with varying views on the right to end a pregnancy – but if government officials can unlawfully prey on people based on their personal beliefs, we are all at risk of being their next target.”

The lawyers, in their motion to oppose the motion to dismiss, said this demonstrates how when prosecutors and law enforcement aim their extensive power to conspire and charge someone who did not commit a crime, then the “[f]undamental agreement between the people and their government is broken.”

The director of the ACLU’s Abortion Criminal Defense Initiative, Lauren Johnson, similarly said, “A system in which law enforcement and prosecutors can ignore the law to wrongfully charge, arrest, and upend the lives of individuals is not a fair or just system and it certainly isn’t a system that makes us any safer.”

Plaintiff’s lawyers added, “No one is above the law, including and especially the people we entrust to enforce it.”

Legal director at the Texas ACLU, Adriana Piñon, noted, “We will not let this egregious constitutional violation be swept under the rug and go away quietly…, we must demand that law enforcement officials commit to using their power responsibly and justly.”

Starr County prosecutors and law enforcement have claimed legal immunity which exempts “government officials, including police and prosecutors, from being held accountable for some constitutional violations,” said the ACLU, but counters the legal immunity does not apply to government actors who  “knowingly falsely accuse and arrest someone for a crime they did not commit” and “knowingly violate constitutional rights with immunity.”

The ACLU argues the government officials responsible for this unlawful indictment and violation of Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights should not be allowed to  “evade responsibility” because they are “not entitled to absolute or qualified immunity,” adding  Gonzales “seeks damages and accountability from all government actors involved in these violations that “continue to harm her family.”

ACLU’s Johnson charged, “We need to hold prosecutors accountable to stop this abuse of power and put an end to the criminalization of pregnancy outcomes.”

About The Author

Estrella Torres is a first-generation Latina student in her 3rd year at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is pursuing a major in Political Science and a minor in Public Affairs. Estrella has a strong passion and dedication to addressing social justice issues and political activism both in her high school and university. Her positionality as a student coming from a Mexican immigrant household has fueled her to pursue career goals involved with social justice and immigration law. She hopes to help undocumented immigrants as a lawyer and promote policies that would better their lives and provide them with fair and equal opportunities. Because of this, she is planning to go on the pre-law track and foster her skills of reading, writing, analyzing, and critical thinking. She hoped to gain more experience in journalism as regards law, local government, and public policy that would further prepare her for her goals.

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