(Washington) The phrase “bounty hunter” recalls the old days of the famous “Wanted” posters and cowboys in the American Wild West.
But it still exists in the United States, where a new Texas abortion law has sparked controversy over the controversial activity that allows ordinary citizens to denounce, for a reward, those who help women abort.
“It sounds ridiculous, almost anti-American,” Joe Biden said on Friday, taking it as an encouragement to denounce.
“The most harmful thing about this law in Texas is that it creates a kind of so-called vigilante system, with people collecting bounties,” the US president said.
The law, which went into effect Wednesday, distinguishes itself from other anti-abortion initiatives in the United States because it relies “exclusively” on citizens.
Thus it encourages residents to file a civil complaint against those who may assist women to abort after six weeks of pregnancy, while most of them do not know they are pregnant.
This entourage could include the doctor but likely also the taxi driver who brought the patient to the clinic, or the relatives who helped her fund the procedure.
In the event of conviction, the citizen who denounced, who became the complainant, would receive at least $10,000 in compensation.
Urgently seized by Planned Parenthood, the Supreme Court refused to block this law, dealing the most severe blow to the right to abortion in nearly half a century in the United States.
Among those who wanted to oppose it, progressive Justice Sonia Sotomayor denounced the “astonishing” decision made by five of the nine justices: “Indeed,[Texas]has mandated the citizens of this state to become bounty hunters.”
Already, the associations are calling for anonymity to denounce those who “help or support” women seeking abortions. Conservative officials from other US states have said they want to follow Texas’ lead.
If the tradition of bounty hunters dates back to medieval Europe, the practice is now largely illegal worldwide.
But it is located in the United States, where “bounty hunters” are responsible for searching for fugitives.
Most of them are defendants who are released on bail pending their appearance before a judge, and they borrowed this amount from specialized companies. Controversial activity found elsewhere in the world only in the Philippines.
If the accused decides to flee, it is this company that authorizes the bounty hunters to find him and retrieve his deposit.
Jackets, handcuffs… Some may be armed to the teeth and allowed into private residences.
“Today, many are actually real private investigators, trained in accredited schools,” Tristan Capello, a historian and professor at Johns Hopkins University, explains to AFP. “They are an essential component of the American legal system, but regulations for this profession vary from state to state.”
The “shock” of slavery
While it is difficult to estimate their exact number, one sectoral organization, Professional Bail Agents in the United States, puts the number at 15,000 while another (the National Association of Fugitive Recovery Agents) reports that 30,000 fugitives are arrested each year using these methods.
The profession became popular with Westerners in the 1950s, with Mr. Cabello saying, “It is a discourse addressed to the most conservative of American citizens.”
But Michelle Goodwin, a law professor at the University of California, said Texas law has awakened a “shock” to other Americans: the memory of the rewards offered to those who captured blacks while trying to escape “slavery.”
“In the United States, there is very little case law that enables citizens to undermine the constitutional ‘freedom’ of other citizens as Texas law does, according to him.
“The only time we’ve seen it before was when Congress saw it […] I implemented these laws that made it possible to track down and hunt down black people seeking their freedom.”
For Ken White, a former federal prosecutor, “the law is calculated to inundate anyone who conservatives believe is related to abortion with costly and devastating lawsuits.”
And even if this “flood of small, groundless trials” does not eventually come to an end, this legal course will in itself be, for the people involved, “devastating.”
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