A guide to Rachel Mitchell’s hesitant stance on abortion lawsuits

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On September 27, County Attorney Rachel Mitchell posted a brief video on Facebook. Maricopa County’s top prosecutor looked into the camera and made a promise she’d avoided for months: ‘I want the community to know that I won’t sue women for having abortions,’ she said . “Similarly, I will not re-victimize victims of rape, incest or assault.”

The statement was startling. Mitchell had spent months refusing to directly answer whether she would sue women who have abortions. She even criticized Julie Gunnigle, the Democrat who was challenging her in the upcoming election, for already taking the same position Mitchell was taking now.

It is unclear whether Arizona law allows people to be prosecuted for obtaining abortions. Currently, Arizona’s territorial-era total ban was reinstated in late September before being blocked again. The state has a 15-week abortion ban that is currently in effect. Both laws allow for criminal charges against those who perform abortions.

With an abortion ban in place, all eyes are on Mitchell – who could now press charges against those providing or assisting with the procedure. The Maricopa County District Attorney’s Office is one of the largest prosecution agencies in the nation and handles the lion’s share of criminal cases in Arizona. He became a focal point for activists concerned about abortion in the state.

Mitchell has given various responses during her campaign to questions about abortion-related lawsuits and how she will enforce the state’s abortion law.

Gunnigle has centered its campaign on a promise that it will not sue people who have abortions or those who perform them. On this issue, at least, Gunnigle has been consistent. In September 2020, during her first campaign for county attorney, she vowed “not to prosecute people for their private health care choices,” including abortion providers. In March, she told KTAR that she would not prosecute abortion cases under the state’s 15-week ban or any other law that was reinstated after the fall of Roe v. Wade. She remained consistent through numerous debates and interviews, and again reiterated her position as new times the 3rd of October.

When new times contacted the county attorney’s office to ask Mitchell to clarify her position, spokeswoman Jennifer Liewer wrote that Mitchell’s statement “consistent with her position” and that she would not be available for an interview.

“We do not have a case submitted to our office for review, but if it does, we will seek guidance from the courts as to what laws the office should use to review a case,” Liewer added. Mitchell’s campaign did not respond to separate requests.

In light of Mitchell’s recent change of heart, here’s a timeline of her abortion flip-flops.

April 29: ‘Maybe’ prosecutorial discretion should be used in rape or incest cases

Three days after Mitchell was named county attorney, she sat down with 12News’ Brahm Resnik. Asked about abortions, Mitchell was quick to point to her decades of experience as a sex crimes prosecutor, during which time, she said, she worked with victims of rape and incest.

“These situations, perhaps, are where prosecutorial discretion could be exercised. Because I look at this and say, ‘This is a very tragic situation,'” she said.

About a week later, Mitchell spoke with Resnik again, and this time clarified his position. She again stressed her intention to exercise discretion in cases of rape or incest. She noted that she did not believe the law even provided for charges to be brought against a woman seeking an abortion – “That’s for the doctors,” she said – but added: “If it happens produced, I can obviously use my discretion to determine whether there is a reasonable likelihood of conviction.”

May 31: Mitchell doesn’t believe law will allow prosecution of people seeking abortions, but would sue doctors

In an interview with ABC15, Mitchell said for the first time that she doesn’t think Arizona’s law, as written, will target people seeking abortions. This is a point of contention between Mitchell and Gunnigle. The Territorial-era ban, unlike the more moderate 15-week ban, does not include an immunity provision for self-administering women. This law is not in force at the moment, but the courts could eventually reinstate it.

“I read the law because, yes, a person could be prosecuted for self-administration,” Gunnigle said. New times. “While I’m glad that’s how she interprets the law, it gives me absolutely no faith.”

As for providers, however, Mitchell has expressed his intention to pursue abortion cases. “We would look at every case that comes up. What I’m not going to do is sit here and say I’m not going to follow the law in this regard. That’s my role,” she said. declared.

June 26: ‘Absolutely’ stands by claims it would exercise discretion in cases of rape or incest

In an interview with 12 News two days after the fall of Roe vs. Wade, Mitchell again reiterated his views on abortion. She said she stood by her April comment to Resnik that she would exercise discretion in rape or incest cases. “I think there’s a difference between talking about looking at the specific circumstances of a specific case, where it might be a victim of rape or incest, and talking about refusing to follow the law, basically,” she said.

Mitchell then vacillated on the type of procedure she would use to prosecute people who provided or assisted in an abortion involving a victim of rape or incest. She would not “re-victimize” these people, she said, but at the same time she pledged to “always consider whether there is a reasonable likelihood of conviction” in “each individual case.”

June 28: Flashbacks on cases of rape or incest: “My role is to enforce the law”

Two days after claiming to “absolutely” stand by his statements promising discretion in rape or incest cases, Mitchell backtracked when asked pointed questions at a press conference on June 28. When asked if victims of sexual assault should submit a police report to avoid prosecution — or for their doctors to avoid prosecution — Mitchell declined to elaborate.

“I have to look at each individual case. I think it would be really irresponsible as a prosecutor to sit there and say, ‘Well, here’s what I’m going to do, and here’s exactly what I’m going to demand’. ” she says. Mitchell then added, “My role is to uphold the law and review cases as they come to me, make a decision and follow the ethical standards of prosecution that we apply to each case. , i.e. the reasonable likelihood of conviction.”

A reporter then asked how Mitchell planned to use his discretion in rape or incest cases under a law that made no exceptions for rape or incest. “What I’m saying is I’m going to look at every situation. And since the standard of indictment is a reasonable likelihood of conviction, I have to look at what a jury is likely to do,” Mitchell said.

Click to enlarge

County attorney candidate Julie Gunnigle has vowed not to pursue any abortion law.

Ash ponders the photo

September 9: It is ‘not appropriate’ to prejudge cases involving rape victims or their doctors

Mitchell and Gunnigle faced off for the first time in a debate on Sept. 15 at an event hosted by 12News. The question of abortion quickly arose. When asked if she would sue abortion providers via telemedicine, Mitchell deflected. “I feel like it’s inappropriate for me as a prosecutor to say, without reviewing a case, this is the decision I’m going to make,” she said.

As the debate drew to a close, Gunnigle asked Mitchell a pointed question: “I always want to know when it will be in the interests of justice, ever, to sue a pregnant rape victim or her doctor for having suffered a abortion,” she said. .

Previously, Mitchell had claimed that she would “absolutely” not re-victimize any rape victim. In response to Gunnigle, however, Mitchell said, “Is there anything you’re not allowed to do? If you get the job of county attorney, you’re going to raise your hand and take an oath to uphold the law. And you’ve already prejudged a whole segment of the case and said, I’m not going to do it, on sight. That’s not appropriate.

Sept. 15: It’s ‘not responsible to say’ if she would pursue abortion-related cases

In a subsequent discussion moderated by Ted Simons of arizona skyline, Mitchell again insisted that Gunnigle’s position on abortion was wrong. When asked whether or not she would sue for violating Arizona abortion laws, Mitchell replied, “I don’t think it’s responsible to say that.” She added that she would assess each case presented to her. (Gunnigle said she would not sue, regardless of the law.)

“I am fully aware of the emotion and the difficulty of this situation,” Mitchell said of the abortion cases. Then she added: “I’m going to look into them, because it’s my responsibility, as I am in all other cases. … I’m not going to announce in advance that I’m not going to follow a law because I don’t don’t do it. I don’t like it.”

September 27: promises that she “will not prosecute women for abortion”

Four days after a Pima County ruling reinstated Arizona’s territorial-era abortion ban — which makes it a crime to provide or assist with any abortion except in cases where the life of the mother is threatened – Mitchell released this video statement.

“I want the community to know that I will not prosecute women for having an abortion, and no law even suggests that a woman will ever be prosecuted for her decision,” she said. “Likewise, I will not re-victimize victims of rape, incest or assault. … False statements made about the law and my position in order to sow fear for political gain are simply irresponsible.” She repeated that position in an October 4 interview with the Arizona Republic.

She remained mum on how she would approach clinicians – who are explicitly targeted by the law, unlike people undergoing the procedure.

Gunnigle said she believed Mitchell’s statement was the result of a poll that showed her stance on abortions was “incredibly unpopular.” Polls show that the majority of Arizona voters want abortion to remain legal in at least some cases.

Gunnigle noted that Mitchell had dodged the question many times before, including during debates between the two. “If she had believed that the law did not apply to patients, [the debate] would have been in time to tell. Or in one of the press conferences she had,” Gunnigle said.

But Mitchell didn’t.

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