Colorado and North Carolina protect abortion from out-of-state prosecution
The Democratic governors of Colorado and North Carolina on Wednesday issued executive orders to protect abortion providers and patients from extradition to home states that have banned the practice.
Abortions are legal in North Carolina until fetal viability or in certain medical emergencies, making the state an outlier in the south-east of the country.
“This order will help protect North Carolina doctors and nurses and their patients from cruel right-wing criminal laws passed by other states,” governor Roy Cooper said.
The governors of Rhode Island and Maine also signed executive orders late on Tuesday, stating that they will not cooperate with other states’ investigations into people who seek abortions or health care providers that perform them.
Rhode Island Democratic governor Dan McKee said women should be trusted with their own health care decisions, and Democratic lieutenant governor Sabina Matos said Rhode Island must do all it can to protect access to reproductive health care as “other states attack the fundamental right to choose”.
Maine Democratic governor Janet Mills said she will “stand in the way of any effort to undermine, rollback, or outright eliminate the right to safe and legal abortion in Maine”.
Their offices confirmed on Wednesday that they are pre-emptive, protective moves, and that neither state has received a request to investigate, prosecute or extradite a provider or patient.
The attempts to protect abortion rights come as tighter restrictions and bans are going into effect in conservative states after last month’s Dobbs v Jackson ruling in the US Supreme Court, which overturned the nearly half-century-old holding from Roe v Wade that found that the right to abortion was protected by the US Constitution. The issue reverts to the states, many of which have taken steps to curtail or ban abortions.
Several states have put new restrictions in place since the Supreme Court ruling and more are pressing to do so. The Louisiana Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected the attorney general’s request to allow immediate enforcement of laws against most abortions, saying it was declining to get involved “at this preliminary stage”.
Enforcement was blocked by another court last week. Louisiana attorney general Jeff Landry tweeted that Wednesday’s decision “is delaying the inevitable. Our Legislature fulfilled their constitutional duties, and now the Judiciary must. It is disappointing that time is not immediate”.
The specific fears of Democratic officials are rooted in a Texas law adopted last year to ban abortions after fetal cardiac activity can be detected. The law lets any person other than a government official or employee sue anyone who performs an abortion or “knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets” obtaining one.
The person filing the claim would be entitled to 10,000 dollars (£8,367) for every abortion the subject was involved with — plus legal costs.
The US Supreme Court has declined to hear challenges to the Texas law so far.
Stanford law professor Bernadette Meyler said it is not clear whether judgments against out-of-state abortion providers would hold up in courts, especially if they are not advertising their services in states with bans.
But she also said it is not clear the liberal states are on firm legal ground to protect their residents from any out-of-state litigation.
“Probably, they assume that some of the laws that they’re passing won’t be upheld or may not be upheld, and they’re trying to come up with as much as possible in order to resist the effects of the Dobbs decision,” Ms Meyler said.