Dozens of locally elected prosecutors from all over the country, many from Democratic areas within red states, are refusing to enforce abortion restrictions that have now been legalized following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization.
After the court overturned its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision Friday — permitting pro-life state legislatures to enact abortion restrictions — 90 elected prosecutors collectively representing more than 91.5 million people from 31 states and territories and the District of Columbia declared their intention to ignore pro-life laws restricting abortion, calling them "a mockery of justice."
"We stand together in our firm belief that prosecutors have a responsibility to refrain from using limited criminal legal system resources to criminalize personal medical decisions," the prosecutors said in a joint statement organized by Fair and Just Prosecution, a left-leaning legal nonprofit.
"As such, we decline to use our offices' resources to criminalize reproductive heath decisions and commit to exercise our well-settled discretion and refrain from prosecuting those who seek, provide, or support abortions," the statement reads.
The actions of these pro-abortion attorneys will escalate a growing conflict between liberal prosecutors who support abortion rights and pro-life state attorneys general and legislatures who, in accordance with the will of voters, enact restrictions on abortion.
Many of the prosecutors who signed on to the joint statement are from 12 states where abortion is now banned or likely to be banned, including Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and others. They argue that prosecutorial discretion permits them to prioritize other crimes instead of pursuing cases against abortion providers.
Pro-life advocates harshly criticized their position. James Bopp Jr., the general counsel of the National Right to Life Committee, said the prosecutors' statement was "anti-democratic" in a statement to CNN. His organization has published model legislation for pro-life lawmakers that would enable state attorneys general to take up abortion cases when local prosecutors refuse to do so.
"They were not elected to decide what the law was," Bopp told CNN. "If they don't want to enforce these laws, then we'll have somebody else do it."
Some state attorneys general already possess the power to override local prosecutors. Alabama and Arizona are two states, among others, where the attorney general holds the power to supersede local prosecutors for any reason, according to Emory Law Journal. They each have elected Republican attorneys general and have laws banning abortion that may take effect after the Supreme Court's decision.
Florida, Michigan, and several other states give broad powers to state officials to override local prosecutors when they deem it to be in the public interest, Politico reported.
Republicans have criticized the abuse of prosecutorial discretion by Democratic prosecutors.
"We have no doubt they are sincere in their pledge to not do their jobs," a spokeswoman for Georgia attorney general Chris Carr told the Center Square after local district attorneys said they would not enforce the state's heartbeat bill.
"It's a dereliction of duty for district attorneys and solicitors to pre-emptively pick and choose which laws they will enforce," Carr spokeswoman Kara Richardson said. "It undermines the rule of law and erodes our system of self-governance."