Prosecutors could refuse to file charges under new US abortion laws

A demonstration in Montgomery came days after governor Kay Ivey signed the most stringent abortion law in America. Picture: AP
A demonstration in Montgomery came days after governor Kay Ivey signed the most stringent abortion law in America. Picture: AP
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New American state abortion laws likely to become bogged down in legal challenges face another potential obstacle: prosecutors who refuse to enforce them.

Nearly two dozen district attorneys across seven states were asked about the issue, and several said they would not file criminal charges against doctors who violate the laws. Even a few who left open potentially charging doctors said they would not prosecute women for having an abortion, which some legal observers say could be a possibility under Georgia’s law.

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“I am never going to enforce a law that’s unconstitutional, and furthermore, especially not one that targets women and girls,” said David Cooke, chief prosecutor in Macon, Georgia.

The four district attorneys who said they would not enforce the laws at all cited the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v Wade decision legalising abortion nationwide, saying their states’ abortion laws clearly conflict with that decision. The new laws, which are not yet in effect, take aim at Roe in hopes that a new conservative majority on the court will overturn it.

For Cooke, the decision was also partly personal.

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Georgia’s law bans abortion once a feotal heartbeat is detected, which can happen in the sixth week of pregnancy, before many women know they’re pregnant. It includes an exception for rape victims, but Cooke said his experience as a sex crimes prosecutor showed him that many victims are afraid to report the crime to police, often because the perpetrator has power over them. “I’ve spent my entire career protecting women and girls and doing everything I can to get justice for them, and I am not about to abandon them now,” he said.

Sherry Boston, whose district includes parts of Atlanta, cited her gender and role as a mother, saying she believed it was a woman’s right to make decisions about her body and medical care. She also said her constituents don’t want her to pursue women and doctors.

“My community has spoken very clearly that they want me to put my time and resources into human trafficking, domestic violence, gun and gang violence that ultimately are a detriment to our community,” she said in a phone interview.

In Salt Lake City, Utah, District Attorney Sim Gill said he’s received angry calls from some residents since announcing that he would not prosecute doctors for any violations of Utah’s ban on abortion after 18 weeks. Gill’s county includes the state’s only two abortion clinics.

Of district attorneys contacted in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Utah, Louisiana, Ohio and Missouri – states that have recently enacted or are about to enact abortion restrictions – most did not respond or declined to comment.