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States take steps to protect abortion from prosecution elsewhere

PROVIDENCE, RI — Democratic governors of states where abortion will remain legal are seeking ways to protect patients who travel there for the procedure — as well as the providers who help them — from lawsuits by their home states.

The Democratic governors of Colorado and North Carolina on Wednesday issued executive orders to protect abortion providers and patients from extradition to 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 Southeast.

“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 in announcing the order.

The governors of Rhode Island and Maine also signed executive orders late Tuesday saying they will not cooperate with other states’ investigations of people seeking abortions or health care providers performing them.

Rhode Island Democratic Gov. Dan McKee said women should be left with their own health care decisions, and Democratic Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos said Rhode Island must do whatever it takes. its power to protect access to reproductive health care as “other states attack the fundamental right to choose.”

Maine Democratic Governor Janet Mills said she would “oppose any effort to undermine, roll back, or outright eliminate the right to safe and legal abortion in Maine.”

Their offices confirmed Wednesday that these were preventive and protective measures and that neither state had received a request to investigate, prosecute or extradite any provider or patient.

Their attempts to protect abortion rights come as stricter restrictions and bans take effect in conservative states following the Dobbs v. Jackson last month before the United States Supreme Court, which overturned the nearly half-century-old decision of Roe v. Wade who found that the right to abortion was protected by the American Constitution. The question is up to states, many of which have taken steps to reduce or ban abortions.

The specific fears of Democratic officials are rooted in a Texas law passed last year to ban abortions after fetal heart activity is detected. The law allows anyone other than a government official or employee to 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 for each abortion the subject participated in, plus court costs.

The United States Supreme Court has so far refused to hear challenges to the Texas law.

Bernadette Meyler, a professor at Stanford Law School, said it’s unclear whether judgments against out-of-state abortion providers will hold up in court, especially if they don’t advertise their services. services in prohibited states.

But she also said it’s not clear that liberal states have a solid legal basis to protect their residents from any out-of-state litigation.

“Probably they assume that some of the laws they pass won’t be enforced or maybe won’t be enforced, and they try to find as many as they can in order to resist the effects of the Dobbs decision,” said Meyer.

Resistance to cooperation with abortion-related investigations could hold out, however, she said. Places that declared themselves “sanctuary cities” and refused to cooperate with federal immigration investigations during former President Donald Trump’s presidency may have pursued similar policies.

In Raleigh, North Carolina, Planned Parenthood President Alexis McGill Johnson said her group and other abortion access advocates are pushing for protections. “Wherever we can push the imagination of what a free and equal world looks like,” she said, “we work with those governors.”

Connecticut was the first state to pass a law to protect abortion providers, patients and others from lawsuits brought by other states. Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont signed it in May, before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

“In accordance with Connecticut law, we will resist any attempt by another state to criminalize or intrude on a woman’s private and legal health decisions,” Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said in a statement. a press release last week.

The Democratic governors of Minnesota, New Mexico, Nevada, California and Washington and the moderate Republican governor of liberal Massachusetts all signed executive orders within days of the decision to prohibit cooperation with other states that might interfere. with access to abortion.

“Residents seeking access will be protected, providers will be protected, and abortion is and will continue to be legal, safe and accessible,” said New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, who described the order. as a preventive measure.

One of the largest abortion providers in Texas announced Wednesday that it plans to move its operations to the New Mexico border. Whole Woman’s Health announced Wednesday that it is looking to establish a new clinic in a New Mexico town near the state line to provide first- and second-trimester abortions.

The Democratic-controlled Massachusetts House of Representatives has approved a bill to protect abortion providers and people seeking abortions from action by other states. The Democratic Governor of Delaware has signed legislation expanding access to abortion, with various legal protections for abortion providers and patients, including out-of-state residents who have abortions in the Delaware.

New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed two bills into law on Friday that were quickly passed by the Democratic-led Legislature after the ruling. The new laws aim to protect the right of people from outside the state to obtain abortion services within its borders and to prohibit the extradition of those involved in reproductive health services if they face to charges in another state.

Murphy said he was “extremely angry” that he had to sign the bills, but equally proud to do so.

“These laws will make New Jersey a beacon of freedom for every American woman,” he said at a signing ceremony in Jersey City, not far from the Statue of Liberty.

In Washington state, the governor barred the state patrol from cooperating with out-of-state abortion investigations or prosecutions, but noted it had no jurisdiction on local law enforcement agencies. The county executive surrounding Seattle said Tuesday that its sheriff’s office and other executive departments would not cooperate with out-of-state lawsuits against abortion providers or patients.

Some progressive prosecutors in the United States have already said they will not enforce some of the most restrictive and punitive anti-abortion laws. Nashville police released a statement Wednesday saying they “are not abortion cops” a day after the city council passed a resolution calling on the department to make abortion investigations a low priority.

City council members from two other liberal cities in conservative states — New Orleans and Austin, Texas — called for similar resolutions.


Hannah Schoenbaum is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues. Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Schoenbaum reported from Raleigh, North Carolina. Associated Press writers Jim Anderson in Denver contributed to this report; Gary Robertson in Raleigh, North Carolina; Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Kimberlee Kruesi in Nashville; and Patrick Whittle in Portland, Maine.

ABC News

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