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Prosecutors Say They Won’t Enforce Anti-Abortion Laws as Protests Spread

October 19, 2020 by Tom Ramstack
People march during the Women's March in downtown Chicago, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. Dozens of Women's March rallies were planned from New York to San Francisco to signal opposition to President Donald Trump and his policies, including the push to fill the seat of late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg before Election Day. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

WASHINGTON — A nationwide coalition of prosecutors is pledging not to enforce anti-abortion laws as protests spread against a Supreme Court nominee who is a staunch abortion opponent.

They issued their “Joint Statement from Elected Prosecutors” last week during Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

Meanwhile, a major protest against Barrett and President Donald Trump by Women’s March organizers continued in Washington, D.C., and other cities Saturday.

The more than 60 state prosecutors also complained about a trend among state legislatures to pass laws that impose tough penalties on women who receive abortions and health care workers who perform them.

“It is imperative that we use our discretion to decline to prosecute personal health care choices criminalized under such laws,” the statement says.

Abortion was legalized by the Supreme Court in the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade. The prosecutors referred to the ruling when they wrote that “women have a right to make decisions about their own medical care including, but not limited to, seeking an abortion.”

They based their authority to decline prosecutions on the power of prosecutorial discretion, which refers to laws that grant them a right to decide who is prosecuted and for which crimes.

In some jurisdictions, prosecutors have used their discretion to reduce or eliminate prosecutions on marijuana charges.

A dozen states passed anti-abortion laws in the past year imposing criminal penalties on women who have abortions or doctors who perform them.

State laws that contributed to the prosecutors’ protest included a recent Alabama law that imposes a minimum prison sentence of 10 years on any doctor who performs an abortion.

They also cited a Tennessee “heartbeat” law that restricts abortions performed as soon as six weeks after conception.

Even within states that approved the laws, some prosecutors are dissenting. One of them was Danny Carr, the district attorney of Jefferson County, Ala., who signed the Joint Statement from Elected Prosecutors. Another was Nashville District Attorney General Glenn Funk.

Federal courts have blocked the Alabama and Tennessee laws pending appeals by groups on both sides of the dispute.

“Our U.S. Supreme Court, in deciding Roe v. Wade, determined that every woman has a fundamental right to privacy which is ‘broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy,’” the Joint Statement says. “As some elected prosecutors have noted, the broad restrictions in the laws passed by these states appear to be unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade.”

Other notable prosecutorial attorneys who signed the Joint Statement include California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and city prosecutors Cyrus Vance Jr. of New York, Kim Foxx of Chicago, Chesa Boudin of San Francisco and Larry Krasner of Philadelphia.

In Washington on Saturday, thousands of protesters carried protest signs and wore costumes as they marched through the streets.

The signs typically carried slogans like, “My Body, My Choice” and “Equal Rights for All Women.” Some women wore white lace collars and black robes in honor of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who made her reputation as a women’s rights advocate.

At one point, volunteers tried to keep Pro-Choice protesters and Pro-Life counter-protesters apart during shouting matches in front of the Supreme Court.

The demonstration took place days before the U.S. Senate is expected to vote to confirm Barrett to replace Ginsburg.

Barrett shares many of the conservative views of Trump and his Republican supporters on abortion and opposition to the Affordable Care Act. Republicans hold a majority in the Senate.

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