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A Texas woman is suing the prosecutors who charged her with murder after her self-induced abortion

<i>Eric Gay/AP/File via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Demonstrators gathered near the Texas Capitol following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. A woman in Texas is suing prosecutors and Starr County for more than $1 million after she was arrested and unlawfully charged with murder for an abortion she had in 2022.
Eric Gay/AP/File via CNN Newsource
Demonstrators gathered near the Texas Capitol following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. A woman in Texas is suing prosecutors and Starr County for more than $1 million after she was arrested and unlawfully charged with murder for an abortion she had in 2022.

By Lauren Mascarenhas, Rosa Flores and Sara Weisfeldt, CNN

(CNN) — A woman in Texas is suing prosecutors and Starr County for more than $1 million after she was arrested and unlawfully charged with murder for an abortion she had in 2022.

Lizelle Gonzalez was arrested and charged with murder in Starr County, Texas, in 2022 after using abortion medication to self-induce an abortion 19 weeks into her pregnancy. The then-26-year-old spent two nights in jail, as her name, mugshot and private medical information made national news, the lawsuit said. The charges were dismissed days later.

The arrest took place months before Roe v. Wade was overturned by the US Supreme Court and at a time when abortions after six weeks were illegal in Texas. However, pregnant people cannot be criminally prosecuted for their own abortions under state law – not now, nor at the time of Gonzalez’s 2022 arrest.

Gonzalez is now suing prosecutors, claiming in her lawsuit they knowingly misrepresented facts and disregarded her rights in order to have her arrested and charged, irrevocably changing the course of her life.

The complaint was filed last week against Gocha Allen Ramirez, the Starr County district attorney, Alexandria Lynn Barrera, the assistant district attorney, and the county itself. CNN has reached out to all the defendants.

Starr County told CNN it has yet to be served with the lawsuit. Gonzalez’s attorneys said they anticipate the county will be served soon.

“We have no doubt that the Starr County District Attorney, and his office, were well-aware that Texas law exempts a woman who receives an abortion, by any means, from a murder charge and yet chose to pursue an unjust and unconstitutional indictment,” Gonzalez’s attorneys, Cecilia Garza and Veronica S. Martinez, told CNN in a statement. “Such a flagrant violation of Ms. Gonzalez’s basic civil rights cannot be regarded as a mere ‘mistake.’”

Ramirez is facing professional consequences beyond the lawsuit.

An investigation by the Texas State Bar found this January that Ramirez had committed professional misconduct and fined him $1,250, as well as placing his license under probated suspension for one year, beginning Monday.

Prosecutors in Ramirez’s office tried to “pursue criminal homicide charges against an individual for acts clearly not criminal pursuant to Texas Penal Code” and Ramirez “failed to refrain from prosecuting a charge that was known not to be supported by probable cause,” reads the findings of a state bar’s investigatory panel, which Ramirez signed in acknowledgment.

According to the panel’s findings, although Ramirez denied that he was ever briefed on the facts of the case before it was prosecuted by his office, investigators determined he was consulted by a prosecutor in his office beforehand and permitted it to go forward.

Barrera, who had only been admitted to practice law in Texas just over five years before the incident, has not faced public disciplinary action for her role in prosecuting Herrera, state bar records show.

The complaint notes Gonzalez self-induced an abortion in January 2022 using misoprostol, a pill that can be used on its own or with another medication, mifepristone, to complete a medication abortion.

After Gonzalez was examined at Starr County Memorial Hospital, staff reported the abortion to the Starr County District Attorney’s Office, in violation of federal privacy laws, the document alleges. CNN has reached out to the hospital, which is not named as a defendant in this suit, for comment.

The complaint alleges Ramirez and Barrera “made misrepresentations of the facts and the law to a grand jury, recklessly and callously disregarding the rights of Plaintiff, allowing a malicious prosecution to commence against her.”

The days Gonzalez spent in jail were filled with fear, confusion and anger, her attorney Martinez told reporters Tuesday. The experience took such a toll that Gonzalez had to be transported to the hospital for hyperventilation and shortness of breath on her second day in jail, she said.

“She was released from custody only after she posted the $500,000 bond and not because the charges were dismissed,” Martinez added. Charging documents confirm Gonzalez’s bond was set at $500,000.

Days after Gonzalez was charged, Ramirez announced his office was dropping the charges, stating she had not committed a criminal act.

“In reviewing this case, it is clear that the Starr County Sheriff’s Department did their duty in investigating the incident brought to their attention by the reporting hospital. To ignore the incident would have been a dereliction of their duty,” he wrote in an April 10, 2022 news release.

But the complaint alleges “based on information and belief,” neither the Starr County Sheriff’s Office nor the Rio Grande City Police Department performed an investigation in the case, rather the district attorney’s office “initiated and performed its own investigation based on reports from hospital personnel.”

The Starr County Sheriff’s Office, which arrested Gonzalez, told CNN it had no comment but shared Ramirez’s April 10 statement.

After Gonzalez was “involuntarily and detrimentally thrust into the public eye,” the attention was only heightened by news of the charges being dropped, the complaint states.

Advocates for women and their reproductive rights describe the incident as a brazen attempt to restrict access to healthcare for women.

“In this case, the Starr County District Attorney and Assistant District Attorney had absolutely no right to pursue a murder indictment in what was clearly just another effort to exert control over a woman’s deeply personal family planning decision and decision about her own bodily autonomy – and in direct opposition to the vast majority of Americans who support abortion pill access,” Rachel O’Leary Carmona, executive director of Women’s March and Women’s March Network, told CNN in a statement.

Months after Gonzalez’s arrest, Texas implemented a near-total ban on abortion, with murky exceptions for medical emergencies. State law protects patients who obtain an abortion from criminal liability, though medical professionals can be prosecuted for performing abortions.

“In a world of extremist red-state abortion laws, what we are seeing play out in Texas is some of the most indefensible, most radical instances of state officials going out of their way to punish and control women who desperately need abortion care,” Carmona added.

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