(Washington) The phrase “bounty hunter” recalls the old days of the famous Wanted posters and vigilante cowboys of the American Wild West.
Posted on Sep 5, 2021 at 8:06 am
Elodie CUZIN Agence France-Presse
But they still exist in the United States, where a new Texas abortion law has sparked a debate over this controversial activity that allows ordinary citizens to reward those who help women with abortion to denounce.
“It looks ridiculous, almost anti-American,” said Joe Biden on Friday, interpreting it as an encouragement to denounce.
“The most damaging thing about this law in Texas is that it creates a kind of self-appointed vigilante justice system with people collecting rewards,” lamented the US president.
The law, which came into force on Wednesday, stands out from other anti-abortion initiatives in the US because it is “solely” based on citizens.
She encourages residents to file civil lawsuits against those who help women abort after six weeks of gestation, when most are unaware they are pregnant.
This entourage can include the doctor, but also the taxi driver who brought the patient to the clinic, or relatives who helped her finance the procedure.
If convicted, the denouncing citizen who became the complainant will receive at least $ 10,000 as “compensation.”
The Supreme Court, badly seized by family planning associations, refused to block this law, dealing the worst blow to the right to abortion in the United States in nearly half a century.
Among those who wanted to resist, progressive judge Sonia Sotomayor condemned an “amazing decision” made by five out of nine judges: “In fact, (Texas) has hired the citizens of this state to become premium hunters.” .
Associations are already calling for anonymous denunciation of those who “help or support” women with abortion. And Conservative officials from other states in the United States have announced their intention to follow the example of Texas.
If the tradition of reward hunters in Europe dates back to the Middle Ages, this practice is now largely illegal around the world.
But they do exist in the United States, where “bounty hunters” are responsible for finding fugitives.
These are mainly defendants who were released on bail pending their appearance before a judge and who borrowed this sum from specialized companies. A controversial activity found anywhere else in the world only in the Philippines.
If the defendant decides to flee, it is this company that hires bounty hunters to find him and get his bail back.
Bulletproof vests, handcuffs … Some are armed to the teeth and are even allowed to enter private homes.
“Today there are a lot of real private investigators trained in accredited schools,” said AFP Tristan Cabello, historian and professor at Johns Hopkins University. “You’re an integral part of the American legal system, but the rules for doing this job vary from state to state.”
“Trauma” of slavery
While it is difficult to estimate their exact number, one sector organization, the Professional Bail Agents of the United States, estimates them at 15,000, while another (the National Association of Fugitive Recovery Agents) puts it at 30,000 each year Refugees are arrested using these methods.
This profession became famous with the westerns of the 1950s: “It’s a speech that appeals to the most conservative American citizens,” says Cabello.
But for other Americans, Texan law has created “trauma,” said Michele Goodwin, professor of law at the University of California: the memory of the rewards offered to those who captured blacks who attempted “slavery.” to escape.
“There is very little case law in the United States that gives citizens the power to undermine the constitutional freedom of other citizens,” as Texas law does.
“The only time we’ve seen it before is when Congress […] implemented these laws that made it possible to track down and hunt black people in search of their freedom.
For Ken White, a former federal attorney, “the law is designed to overwhelm anyone who is considered to be associated with abortion by Conservatives with costly, devastating legal proceedings.”
And even if this “deluge of small unfounded lawsuits” does not end in the end, this legal path in itself will be “destructive” for those affected.