United States: why law restricting the right to abortion in Texas reignites the debate on bounty hunters

It is the text which door the most severe blow to abortion rights in nearly half a century in the United States. A New Texan law drastically limiting the possibility of terminating a pregnancy came into force on Wednesday, September 1 and allows any citizen to denounce, for a reward, people who help women to abort after six weeks of gestation. Franceinfo explains why this legislation * is reviving the debate on American bounty hunters.

Because the law encourages citizens to denounce

The text, called “law of the heartbeat” (“Heartbeat Act”) came into effect in Texas on September 1. It prohibits any abortion from the moment a heartbeat of the embryo is detected, that is to say after six weeks of pregnancy.

This law differs from other anti-abortion initiatives in the United States, because it rests exclusively on citizens. She thus encourages the inhabitants to file a civil complaint against those who help women to abort after six weeks of pregnancy. This can include the doctor, but also potentially the taxi driver who brought the patient to the clinic, or relatives who helped finance the procedure. Women themselves cannot be affected by prosecutions.

With this law, “every citizen is now a private attorney general”Josh Blackman, professor of constitutional law at South Texas College of Law Houston, told The Texas Tribune *. For Ken White, a former federal prosecutor, the “Law is calculated to overwhelm anyone perceived by conservatives to be linked to abortion with costly, damning lawsuits”. And even if this “deluge of little baseless lawsuits “ does not succeed, this legal course will be on its own, for the people concerned, “destructive”.

Because this text offers a bonus of at least 10,000 dollars to informers

In the event of conviction, the citizen who denounced, who became the complainant, will receive at least 10,000 dollars (nearly 8,500 euros) of “compensation”.

Already, conservative officials from other American states have said they want to follow the Texan example and associations call for anonymously denouncing those who “help or support” women seeking an abortion. Like the Texas Right to Life association, which set up on his site a form * to collect information about the violation of this law.

According to Rebecca Parma, lobbyist for the organization, vshis bonus $ 10,000 is unlikely to result in unfounded lawsuits from Texans wanting to make money. “Most people [anti-IVG] who would be interested in a lawsuit are not doing it for the money “, she assured CBS News *. They want to make sure the medical industry complies with the law. “

Because many personalities, including Joe Biden, opposed this law

Seized urgently by family planning associations, the Supreme Court refused to block this law. Among those who would have liked to oppose it, the progressive magistrate Sonia Sotomayor denounced a decision “astounding”, taken by five out of nine magistrates: “In the facts, [le Texas] mandated the citizens of this state to become bounty hunters. “

For his part, Joe Biden denounces the denunciation encouraged by this law. “It sounds ridiculous, almost anti-American”, indignant the president Friday, September 3. “The most pernicious thing about this law in Texas is that it creates a sort of self-proclaimed vigilante system, with people collecting rewards.”, he lamented.

He had already criticized the text in a statement * Wednesday. “This sweeping law is a flagrant violation of constitutional law recognized in Roe v. Wade”, he said, referring to the 1973 Supreme Court decision guaranteeing the right to abortion in all American states.

Medically, the doctor Vivek Murthy, who oversees the United States Public Health Service (USPHS), claimed on Twitter that Texas law makes abortions “more dangerous and has a disproportionate impact on women with the fewest resources”, adding that these decisions should be left to patients and their doctors.

Because a long tradition of bounty hunters exists in the United States

If the tradition of reward hunters dates back to the Middle Ages in Europe, this practice is now largely illegal around the world. But it does exist in the United States, where “bounty hunters” (bounty hunters, in English) are responsible for finding the fugitives.

They mainly pursue suspects released under bail pending their appearance before a judge and who have borrowed the sum from specialized companies. If the suspect decides to flee, these companies mandate bounty hunters to find him and recover the deposit. Some of these “bounty hunters” can be armed and equipped with gbulletproof islands and handcuffs, and even allowed to enter private residences.

“Today many are in fact genuine private investigators, trained in accredited schools”, explains to AFP Tristan Cabello, historian and professor at Johns University Hopkins. “They are an essential cog in the American legal system, but the regulations for this profession are different from state to state.”

While it is difficult to estimate the exact number of these bounty hunters, an industry organization, the Professional Bail Agents of tea United States, estimates it at 15,500. Another, the National Association of Fugitive Recovery Agents, suggests that 30,000 fugitives are apprehended each year using these methods.

Because this law awakens the trauma of slavery in some Americans

For some citizens, Texas law brings back painful memories. In Ms. Magazine *, Michele Goodwin, professor of law at the University of California, laments the resemblance between the bounty offered under Texas law; and the remembrance of the rewards offered to those who captured black people attempting to escape slavery. Some aspects of the new abortion law are eerily reminiscent of the Fugitive Slave Acts, which traumatized black people for fear of being hunted down and accused of violating the codes of slavery. “, she explains. She adds that“in the United States, there is very little case law that empowers citizens to undermine constitutional freedom” other citizens, as Texas law does. “The only time we’ve seen it before is when Congress (…) implemented these laws that allowed black people to be hunted down and driven out seeking their freedom.”

* Link in English

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