LOCAL NEWS

Prosecutors Push Back On Enforcing New State Abortion Laws

May 30, 2019, 5:23 AM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 5:06 pm
FILE: Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill...
FILE: Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill

ATLANTA (AP) — New state abortion laws likely to become bogged down in legal challenges face another potential obstacle: prosecutors who refuse to enforce them.

The Associated Press reached out to nearly two dozen district attorneys across seven states, 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.

“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, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) southeast of Atlanta.

The four district attorneys who said they would not enforce the laws at all cited the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing 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.

Georgia’s law bans abortion once a fetal 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 in a phone interview.

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.

“I called some of them back, and I said to them, ‘This isn’t about my politics, but let me ask you, ‘Do you want me to use the authority of my office to violate the constitutional rights of somebody?'” he said during a recent phone interview.

The pushback highlights the vast authority of elected prosecutors and raises the potential for uneven enforcement of abortion laws within states.

“DAs have a tremendous amount of discretion,” said Peter Skandalakis, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, which trains prosecutors and guides them on their professional responsibilities. “All DAs have a lot more on their plate than they can possibly do when they’re looking at cases on whether or not they prosecute.”

Of the district attorneys AP 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.

Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner in St. Louis, Missouri, said in a statement that her office was examining the effect of the state’s abortion law on health care providers in the city. Missouri banned abortions on or beyond the eighth week of pregnancy without exceptions for cases of rape or incest. Doctors who violate the cutoff could face five to 15 years in prison.

Other prosecutors were critical of decisions not to enforce the law.

John Melvin, acting district attorney in Cobb County, an Atlanta suburb, said in a statement that prosecutorial discretion is important.

“It does not allow prosecutors to ignore whole cloth the laws that our legislature passes. To do so would violate their oath to enforce the laws as well as their ethical obligations to do the same,” he said.

Ryan Leonard, district attorney in a county about 20 miles (33 kilometers) west of Atlanta, told the Daily Report that women could be prosecuted for murder under the state’s law and should not have an abortion if they want to avoid criminal charges. He did not return a message from The Associated Press.

The new laws will almost certainly be put on hold while legal challenges play out.

Boston said she would still refuse to prosecute anyone under Georgia’s law if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and the law went into effect.

Gill said prosecutors could still try to find “a measure of justice” in cases presented to them. “Justice is defined by proportionality,” he said. “It’s defined by equity and equality.”

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Local News

Enjoying the outdoors can take special skills, but a new program hopes to educate more Utahns so th...
Karah Brackin

‘Becoming Outdoor Women’ aims to impower Utah woman with outdoor skills

Through “Becoming Outdoor Women,” a nonprofit educational program new to the state, the goal is for Utah women to develop confidence in those skills and, in turn, themselves.
18 hours ago
Utah Lake...
Jeffrey Dahdah

Delta restoration project to improve Utah Lake water quality

A small federal agency has a big task ‑- restoring 260 acres of delta land between the Provo River and Utah Lake. 
18 hours ago
ST. PETERSBURG, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 27: People look out as clouds from the approaching Hurricane Ia...
Cary Schwanitz

Utah Red Cross sends volunteers to Florida as Hurricane Ian closes in

The American Red Cross of Utah sent trained disaster volunteers and staff to Florida this week as the area prepares for the wrath of Hurricane Ian.
18 hours ago
Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, speaks in support of HB440, which modifies provisions related to...
Michael Houck

SLCo Democratic Party wants Sen. Davis to resign, immediately

Salt Lake County Democrats call for Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, to resign immediately after their investigation of sexual misconduct claims Tuesday afternoon.
18 hours ago
(File) Intermountain Healthcare Faculty in Murray....
Michael Houck

Intermountain Healthcare to rename to Intermountain Health

Intermountain Healthcare will rebrand to Intermountain Health in 2023 to reflect the values of the healthcare provider.
18 hours ago
(Photo courtesy: @STEMUtah/Twitter)...
KSL TV

Kicking off Utah’s STEMfest with Casey Scott

Thousands of students are getting ready for this year's Utah STEMfest in Sandy.
18 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

young woman with stickers on laptop computer...
Les Olson

7 ways print marketing materials can boost your business

Custom print marketing materials are a great way to leave an impression on clients or customers. Read for a few ideas to spread the word about your product or company.
young woman throwing clothes to organize a walk in closet...
Lighting Design

How to organize your walk-in closet | 7 easy tips to streamline your storage today

Read our tips to learn how to organize your walk-in closet for more storage space. These seven easy tips can help you get the most out of your space.
Types of Computer Malware and Examples...
PC Laptops

5 Nasty Types of Computer Malware and Examples | Everything You Need to Know to Keep Your Computer and Family Safe

Here are the different types of computer malware and examples that could potentially infect your computer.
tips how to quit smoking...

7 Tips How to Quit Smoking | Quitting Smoking Might be One of the Hardest Things You Ever Do but Here’s Where You Can Start

Quitting smoking cigarettes can be incredibly difficult. Here are 7 tips how to quit smoking to help you on your quitting journey.
Photo: Storyblocks...
Blue Stakes of Utah 811

Blue Stakes of Utah 811: 5 Reasons To Call 811 Before You Dig When Working in Your Yard

Call before you dig. Even at home, you could end up with serious injuries or broken utilities just because you didn't call Blue Stakes of Utah 811.
Days of...
Days of '47 Rodeo

TRIVIA: How well do you know your rodeo? Take this quiz before you go to the Days of ’47!

The Utah Days of ’47 Rodeo presented by Zions Bank is a one-of-a-kind Gold Medal Rodeo being held July 20-23, 25 at 7:30 PM. The Days of ’47 Rodeo How well do you know your rodeo trivia? Take the quiz to test your know-all before heading out to the Days of ’47 Rodeo at the […]
Prosecutors Push Back On Enforcing New State Abortion Laws