There are “eerie corollaries” between current anti-abortion rights legislation and the Fugitive Slave Laws, says Professor Allison Whelan Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. While Professor Seth Chandler from the University of Houston describes the comparison as an “apt analogy”.
The Fugitive Slave Act was a law in the 1850s which paid a bounty to those who returned runaway slaves. Even for slaves captured in states where slavery was illegal, the law applied
This assessment comes after States proposed a flurry of state legislation restricting abortion rights by States in recent months. Many of these new bills copy Texas Senate Bill 8 (SB 8). SB 8 bans all abortions upon detection of a foetal heartbeat, typically around six weeks gestation. The Act uses a bizarre method of enforcement, which lets private citizens, sue abortion providers or those aiding women in violation of the law.
For each case citizens bring that violates SB 8, they can claim $10,000 damages. Professor Whelan describes this as “civilian vigilantism”, akin to the Fugitive Slave Acts.
A further comparison to the Fugitive Slave Acts is how some of these bills target abortion providers in other states. For example, Missouri’s House Bill 2012 allows private citizens to sue out of state abortion providers for providing their services to Missouri citizens.
The recent wave of anti-abortion legislation has prompted other states, like California and Washington, to enact/consider “sanctuary” laws, to protect abortion providers and patients. Similar sanctuary laws protected runaway slaves in the 1850s, only drawing a further comparison to Fugitive Slave Act.
While current laws typically carve out pregnant persons from prosecution. However, Professor Whelan is concerned that this could be the “troubling next step”. Such a move may be the approach for States looking to whittle away access to abortion rights.