St. Louis County Prosecutor Will Not Enforce Missouri Abortion Ban

So far, Wesley Bell is the only St. Louis-area prosecutor to refuse the state's strict abortion ban.

click to enlarge St. Louis County prosecutor Wesley Bell, photographed in 2019. - DANNY WICENTOWSKI
St. Louis County prosecutor Wesley Bell, photographed in 2019.

Moments after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, elected officials in several GOP states (including Missouri) rushed to criminalize most abortions.

Some progressive prosecutors were nearly as quick to say they don't give a damn, including St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell.

On Friday, Bell and 87 elected prosecutors across the country said they would refuse to prosecute anyone who seeks, assists or provides abortions.

Prosecutors listed several reasons for their refusal to do so, including their own personal horror at how some states failed to carve out exceptions for rape or incest (including Missouri). Their long list of grievances was sent in a joint statement distributed by Fair and Just Prosecution group.

"Enforcing abortion bans runs counter to the obligations and interests we are sworn to uphold," the statement reads. "It will erode trust in the legal system, hinder our ability to hold perpetrators accountable, take resources away from the enforcement of serious crime, and inevitably lead to the retraumatization and criminalization of victims of sexual violence."

Many of the prosecutors who signed the statement work in the 13 states with trigger bans.

In Missouri, medical-care providers could lose their licenses and face a Class B felony charge if they perform an abortion. A guilty verdict would result in a 5-to-15-year prison sentence.

No licensed abortion providers operate in St. Louis County, so Bell does not anticipate abortion cases will be brought to his office "at the moment."

However, in his own statement, Bell called Missouri's trigger law "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."

Bell was the only elected prosecutor from Missouri to sign the joint statement.

Missouri's sole abortion provider is in the City of St. Louis. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner was not included in Fair and Just Prosecution's statement.

On Monday, a spokesman for Gardner told the St. Louis-Post Dispatch that the attorney is "committed to ensuring the safe delivery of comprehensive productive health services" in St. Louis.

Criminalizing and prosecuting individuals who seek or provide abortion makes "a mockery of justice," prosecutors said in their statement on Friday.

"Our legislatures may decide to criminalize personal health care decisions, but we remain obligated to prosecute only those cases that serve the interests of justice and the people," the statement continued.

About The Author

Monica Obradovic

Monica Obradovic is a staff writer for the Riverfront Times.
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