We are a group of elected prosecutors representing communities across every region of the country. Over the past few years, we have watched with increasing concern as the constitutional right to abortion has been threatened and eroded. Now, the Supreme Court’s decision to end the federally protected constitutional right to abortion first established five decades ago in Roe v. Wade — a right that three generations of Americans have come of age relying upon — means that abortions will immediately or soon be banned, and potentially criminalized, in at least half of our nation’s states.

As elected prosecutors, ministers of justice, and leaders in our communities, we cannot stand by and allow members of our community to live in fear of the ramifications of this deeply troubling decision. Not all of us agree on a personal or moral level on the issue of abortion. 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.

Prosecutors are entrusted with immense discretion. With this discretion comes the obligation to seek justice. And at the heart of the pursuit of justice is the furtherance of policies and practices that protect the well-being and safety of all members of our community.

Prosecutors make decisions every day about how to allocate limited resources and which cases to prosecute. Indeed, our communities have entrusted us to use our best judgment in deciding how and if to leverage the criminal legal system to further the safety and well-being of all, and we are ethically bound to pursue those interests in every case.

Enforcing abortion bans runs counter to the obligations and interests we are sworn to uphold. 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.

Criminalizing abortion will not end abortion; it will simply end safe abortions, forcing the most vulnerable among us — as well as medical providers — to make impossible decisions. Abortion bans will isolate people from the law enforcement, medical, and social resources they need.

When individuals know that they or someone they love could be investigated and prosecuted for having an abortion, they are far less likely to call for help in the event of an emergency. Prosecutors, police, and our medical partners cannot do our jobs when many victims and witnesses of crime or other emergencies are unwilling to work with us for fear that their private medical decisions will be criminalized.

Our criminal legal system is already overburdened. As elected prosecutors, we have a responsibility to ensure that these limited resources are focused on efforts to prevent and address serious crimes, rather than enforcing abortion bans that divide our community, create untenable choices for patients and healthcare providers, and erode trust in the justice system.

Enforcing abortion bans would mean taking time, effort, and resources away from the prosecution of the most serious crimes — conduct that truly impacts public safety. Abortion bans will also disproportionately harm victims of sexual abuse, rape, incest, human trafficking, and domestic violence.

Over the past several decades, law enforcement has rightly worked to adopt evidence-based, trauma-informed approaches that recognize that not all victims of such crimes are able or willing to immediately report, and that delays in reporting or a reticence to report are consistent with the experience of trauma.

As prosecutors, we also know that the process of reporting can be retraumatizing for many survivors.

We are horrified that some states have failed to carve out exceptions for victims of sexual violence and incest in their abortion restrictions; this is unconscionable. And, even where such exceptions do exist, abortion bans still threaten the autonomy, dignity, and safety of survivors, forcing them to choose between reporting their abuse or being connected to their abuser for life.

Laws that revictimize and retraumatize victims go against our obligation as prosecutors to protect and seek justice on behalf of all members of our community, including those who are often the most vulnerable and least empowered. Our obligation to exercise our discretion wisely requires us to focus prosecutorial resources on the child molester or rapist, not on prosecuting the victim or the health care professionals who provide that victim with needed care and treatment. Keeping communities safe inherently requires promoting trust and faith in the integrity of the rule of law.

To best promote public safety, prosecutors must be perceived by their communities as trustworthy, legitimate, and fair — values that would be undermined by the enforcement of laws that criminalize deeply personal decisions, harm those most in need of our help, and force unnecessarily difficult and traumatizing decisions on many in our community.

As elected prosecutors, when we stand in court, we have the privilege and obligation to represent “the people.” All members of our communities are our clients — they elected us to represent them, and we are bound to fight for them as we carry out our obligation to pursue justice.

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. Criminalizing and prosecuting individuals who seek or provide abortion care makes a mockery of justice; prosecutors should not be part of that.

Respectfully signed by 84 elected prosecutors across the country, including:

Natasha Irving

District Attorney, 6th Prosecutorial District, Maine