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Connecticut Offers Refuge to Red State Women with a “Fugitive Woman Act”
The situation for girls and women in red states is surprisingly analogous to that of enslaved people escaping their tormentors in the South
“Ordinary, said Aunt Lydia, is what you are used to. This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary.” —Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
If you’re the family of a 12-year-old girl in Texas who’s been raped and impregnated, or the husband of a 50-year-old Oklahoma woman who’s at higher risk of death from pregnancy after a failure of birth control, your only truly safe option right now is to move to Canada.
That’s because individual states in the US generally enforce each other’s court judgements, so even if you tried to move to another state to avoid a $10,000 judgement from one of those states’ courts, the state you moved to or were hiding out in would just routinely seize your property to fund the payment.
And once the Trump/McConnell Supreme Court gets done with Roe v Wade, it may not just be $10,000 you’re worried about: you could spend the rest of your life in prison.
It’d be a lot harder to get Canada to enforce a judgment or arrest and extradite a woman who got (or a family member who facilitated) an abortion because abortion is legal in Canada, at all stages of pregnancy, regardless of the reason. Abortion is even free there: paid for by the Canada Health Act (also known as Canadian Medicare).
Elie Mystal at the The Nation makes an eloquent argument that the situation for fertile girls and women is surprisingly analogous to that of enslaved people escaping their tormentors in the South. Slavery was outlawed in Canada in 1834, so when the Fugitive Slave Act was passed here in 1850 (allowing southern states to force northern states to seize and deport runaway slaves) it provoked a flood of Black people using the Underground Railroad to flee to that nation.
In a short time, though, Canada may be replaced by Connecticut as the place known for being a safe destination. It’s the first state in the US to seriously consider what I call a Fugitive Woman Act that, instead of collaborating in the persecution of women and their families, offers them shelter.
The law would guarantee girls and women from other states medical privacy, Connecticut’s absolute refusal to enforce abortion-related judgements from other states, and an unwillingness to arrest and deport women or family members wanted for criminal abortion law violations in the 26 red Handmaid States that are passing or preparing to pass laws criminalizing abortion.
The legislation passed the Connecticut House two weeks ago, is awaiting action in the Senate, and Governor Lamont says he’ll sign it. If it survives legal challenges, expect other blue Free States to pass their own similar laws.
While the rightwing Family Institute of Connecticut is quite upset that families might not be prosecuted in that state, complaining that the law creates a “safe harbor” for women and their families “who violate abortion laws in other states,” the law’s chief sponsor, State Representative Matt Blumenthal (D-Stamford) says that’s the entire point:
“I think one important point about the bill that we’re talking about today,” Blumenthal said, “is that it is purely defensive. The only way that it comes into effect is if another state tries to impose their law on us.”
The law even prevents state and local police and investigative agencies from cooperating with law enforcement investigations or prosecutions of abortion-related matters in any other state.
Handmaid and Free states in America are rapidly separating on a variety of issues, from “culture war” matters like gay, trans, immigration, and abortion rights to “pocketbook” issues like the minimum wage, healthcare/Medicaid, and the right to unionize.
Increasingly these matters will get thrown to the federal government, which has the power to override state laws on pretty much any matter.
Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, for example, is pushing the “Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act” (H.R. 748) that would bring the FBI in to investigate any time a minor flees a Handmaid state to get an abortion in a Free state.
The zeal of Republicans to control women should never be underestimated.
Over 25 states have already gone after women for having miscarriages, like when prosecutors in Alabama sought 20 years in prison for Marshae Jones, a 27-year-old African American woman who was shot in an altercation, causing her to miscarry at 5 months gestation. Alabama wanted to put her in prison, not the man who shot her.
Multiple states, including Missouri and Mississippi, have or are considering bans on the sale or possession of morning-after pills and some are even considering outlawing hormonal birth control because they believe it “causes abortions” before pregnancy.
Then-Governor Mike Pence famously tried to set up what some feared would become a registry of women in Indiana so he could track their menstrual periods to spot any woman who might have obtained an illegal abortion.
But after the Supreme Court slices and dices Roe v Wade, it’s going to get deadly serious.
Expect the federal government to get into the act in a big way if the GOP seizes control of Congress. While a presidential veto may protect America’s women for the next few years, all bets are off if a Republican gains the White House.
Update 4/30/22: “After three hours of debate, the [Connecticut] Senate voted 25-9 with two Republicans absent shortly before midnight.”
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