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St. Louis County's Bell among US elected prosecutors vowing not to enforce abortion bans

Nassim Benchaabane, St. Louis Post-Dispatch on

Published in Political News

CLAYTON, Mo. — St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell is among more than 80 elected prosecutors in Democratic-majority jurisdictions across the country who have pledged not to enforce abortion bans.

The prosecutors, largely from 13 states that have banned most abortions following the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, issued a joint statement declining to put resources toward the criminalization of "personal medical decisions."

"Not all of us agree on a personal or moral level on the issue of abortion," the joint statement read. "But 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."

"As such, we decline to use our offices' resources to criminalize reproductive health decisions and commit to exercise our well-settled discretion and refrain from prosecuting those who seek, provide, or support abortions."

The statement was issued Friday shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe, the landmark 1973 decision that made abortion a constitutional right.

Within minutes, Gov. Mike Parson and Attorney General Eric Schmitt separately acted to trigger a Missouri law, passed in 2019, that bans all abortions except in case of medical emergency. The law, which does not have an exception for rape or incest, declared abortion a felony.

Twelve other states have similar trigger laws, including four of Missouri's neighbors: Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky.

Missouri's last abortion clinic is in the city of St. Louis.

 

St. Louis Circuit Court Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner was not among prosecutors who signed the joint statement.

Asked for comment Monday, a spokeswoman for Gardner's office said in a statement that Gardner "remains committed to ensuring the safe delivery of comprehensive reproductive health services in the City of St. Louis."

Bell, in a statement, said he did not "at the moment" expect any cases "being brought to this office requesting that felony charges be issued on someone for providing an abortion."

But he said the 2019 trigger law was "terribly misguided and dangerous."

"Prosecutors are mandated to protect public safety by seeking accountability for those who endanger our safety and prosperity," Bell said. "In no way does a skilled and qualified medical professional providing a safe abortion to a woman who seeks this medical procedure endanger the safety of anyone."

Chris Nuelle, a spokesman for Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, said in a brief statement, "This is par for the course for progressive prosecutors." Schmitt, a Republican, is running for U.S. Senate.

Bell, who defeated longtime Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch in the Democratic primary in 2018, is running for a second four-year term this year. He has no opposition in the Aug. 2 Democratic primary; his only general election challenger is Libertarian Party candidate Theo Brown Sr.

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