The Flores Case




I

n
the early 1970s Peggy Rom- berg, CEO of the Women Health and Family
Planning Association of Texas, heard about women who threw themselves
down stairs, douched with lye, and drank bottles of whiskey to induce
a miscarriage. Then


Roe


v. Wade

was decided, abortion clinics opened, and Rom- berg
shoved these stories to the back of her mind until 2004 when she
heard about Erica Basoria and Gerardo Flores. 


At
the time, both Basoria and Flores were high school students in Lufkin,
Texas, a quiet town of 32,000. After dating for a year, Basoria,
then 17, became pregnant. According to Ryan Deaton, Flores’s
lawyer, “Right away, her mom, sister, and sister-in-law approached
her and talked about abortion. There was a time she considered it.
Then the Flores family stepped in and said, ‘No, live with
us. Have the baby.’ At some point after Erica moved in with
them she went back to the doctor and someone in the office put a
note in her file stating that she did not believe in abortion.” 


An
affidavit presented in court explains that as Basoria’s condition
became apparent, her thinking changed. “When I was four months
pregnant I began to show and at that time I decided that I should
have gotten an abortion,” the document states. 


She
asked her doctor if she could still terminate the pregnancy. Although
the cut-off in Texas is 23 weeks, Basoria’s ob-gyn said “she
was too far along,” Deaton reports. “This was not true.” 


While
Basoria remains unavailable to the press, news accounts and court
reports reveal that as time went on she became increasingly adamant
about ending the pregnancy and took matters into her own hands,
punching herself in the stomach and running long distances. When
she did not spontaneously abort from these tactics, she enlisted
Flores’s help. He complied, repeatedly stomping on her belly. 


According
to the

Houston Press

, on the evening of May 6, 2004 Basoria
miscarried. Paramedics were called and retrieved two fetuses—Basoria
had been carrying twins—from the toilet. Forensic pathologist
Dr. Tommy J. Brown subsequently did an autopsy and listed blunt
force trauma as the cause of the embryos’ death. 


Basoria
was taken to a local hospital where personnel noticed bruises on
her arms and stomach and called police. During questioning, Basoria
told the officers what she and Flores had done. Flores confirmed
the story and was charged with two counts of capital murder, a crime
punishable by death. In June 2005 Flores, 19, was found guilty and
sentenced to life in prison. Basoria was not charged since procuring
an abortion, no matter the means, is not illegal. 


Peggy
Romberg calls the case “a tragedy. These were young kids in
trouble. We, as a society, failed them. We don’t provide teenagers
with education about sexuality, pregnancy, or disease prevention.
We make confidential access to contraception difficult. We’ve
created an environment where unintended pregnancy is becoming more
prevalent among teens. The lack of information in Texas is astounding.
Erica and Gerardo found themselves in crisis. Why didn’t they
get the education or services they needed to find a better way out
of this?” 


Texas
has the second highest rate of unplanned teen pregnancy in the U.S.
The reasons are obvious. Fewer than 20 of the state’s 254 counties
have an abortion provider. Abstinence is the only message public
school students hear and the textbook used in sex education classes
does not mention contraception or pregnancy. In addition, a slew
of restrictions have been imposed. Medicaid does not pay for abortions;
there is a 24-hour waiting period between scheduling the surgery
and having it; mandatory “counseling” links the procedure
with above-average rates of suicide, infertility, and breast cancer;
minors must get their parents written consent or see a judge pre-abortion;
all procedures performed after the 16th week must take place in
a hospital or ambulatory surgery center, increasing the cost. 


What’s
more, the political climate in Texas is so virulently anti-choice
that in 2003 lawmakers changed the definition of person- hood in
the penal and civil codes. Governor Rick Perry approved the shift,
trumpeting the fact that a fetus is now considered “an individual
at every stage of gestation, from fertilization to birth.” 


This
definition gave rise to the Texas Fetal Protection Law, which makes
the injury or death of a fetus during the commission of a crime
a capital offense; Geraldo Flores was arrested and convicted under
this statute. 


“We
opposed this legislation,” says Sarah Wheat, Director of Public
Affairs at Texas NARAL. “The groups that were pushing for it
were all anti-choice. The bill was promoted to protect women from
violence, but the violence-against- women groups were not involved.”
Almost immediately after the Fetal Protection Law’s passage,
she continues, a zealous district attorney in Potter County sent
area doctors a letter requiring them to report any pregnant woman
suspected of drug or alcohol abuse. Although the attorney general
eventually said that this was beyond the scope of the regulation,
15 women were arrested and one was convicted and remains in jail.
“The result was to frighten women from seeking prenatal care,”
Wheat says. “It did nothing to safeguard them.” 


Despite
the valiant efforts of NARAL, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive
Choice, the Women’s Health and Family Planning Association,
and other groups, fetal protection laws are enforced in 32 states.
Similarly, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act punishes anyone who
kills or damages an embryo during the commission of a federal crime.
Such laws give Flores the distinction of being the first person
found guilty of capital murder where the victim(s) had yet to be
born. Attorney Ryan Deaton has submitted a Notice of Appeal to the
District Court in Beaumont and is committed to taking the case to
the Supreme Court, if necessary. 


Despite
his efforts, the horror of the situation haunts Deaton. “The
appeals could take years,” he admits. “Gerardo has a great
family and a lot of support, but he is not doing well. Erica is
a very sad person. She lost the love of her life, the person, if
it were up to her, she’d be with forever. I am here for Gerardo,
but it’s tragic. People should know that fetal protection laws
allow situations like this to happen.”





Eleanor Bader
is a freelance writer and co-author of

Targets of Hatred.