Attorneys from 15 major cities and localities—including New York and Chicago—urged the Biden Administration on Thursday to ensure federal agencies won’t help enforce state-level abortion bans, part of a broader effort by Democrats on the state, local and federal levels to blunt the impact of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and the wave of state abortion bans that have ensued.
Attorneys representing cities and counties sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, which asks them to immediately issue “clear instructions” making clear their agencies won’t participate in states’ abortion bans.
Without a clear prohibition from the Biden Administration, federal law enforcement could work in conjunction with state or local officials in states where abortion is banned, for instance, or federal officials through the Department of Transportation could go after people who are traveling to another state for abortion care, which anti-abortion advocates have suggested states could soon try to outlaw.
Federal agencies should be told to deny any requests for help with enforcing an abortion ban, restrict any sharing of information that could help state or local officials go after someone for allegedly violating an abortion ban, and direct civil rights divisions to review any policies that could pose a risk to reproductive rights, the local attorneys’ letter requests.
Agencies should also revise any agreements with state or local governments to reflect their commitment not to participate in enforcing abortion bans, the local officials said.
The letter notes this guidance would be in line with President Joe Biden’s executive order directing the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to “consider actions … to ensure the safety of [abortion] patients, providers, and third parties,” but the administration hasn’t made any explicit commitment yet when it comes to blocking federal law enforcement from enforcing state bans.
The departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Transportation have not yet responded to requests for comment.
The letter was led by the Public Rights Project and was signed by attorneys from New York City; Chicago; San Francisco; Baltimore; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Chelsea, Massachusetts; Cincinnati; Columbus, Ohio; Madison, Wisconsin; Milwaukee; Oakland, California; Pittsburgh; Portland, Oregon; Sacramento, California and Saint Paul, Minnesota.
“Community trust is essential for law enforcement to work effectively,” the letter states. “Taking clear and definitive action against the criminalization of abortion is crucial to rebuilding trust that eroded during the prior administration.”
The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24 and paved the way for a slew of state-level abortion bans, which Democratic states, localities and the federal government are now trying to lessen the effects of. The Biden Administration has imposed a series of directives aiming to combat the harms of state abortion bans, such as requiring abortions to be performed under federal law when necessary to a person’s health and creating a task force dedicated to reproductive rights. A number of Democratic-led states have also enacted legislation or executive orders designed to legally shield people who travel for abortions to their state from ones where abortion is banned, along with the providers who perform their abortions. Cities and localities have also taken abortion rights into their own hands, with a number of cities in states with abortion bans—such as Austin, Atlanta and Nashville—passing resolutions that direct local law enforcement to deprioritize prosecuting abortion-related crimes.
15 Cities and Counties Send Letter Urging Federal Law Enforcement Agencies to Issue Guidance Restricting Federal Cooperation With State-Level Abortion Bans (Public Rights Project)
Here’s How Cities In States Planning To Ban Abortion Are Fighting Back (Forbes)
Biden Issues Abortion Executive Order—But Doubles Down On Get-Out-The-Vote Message (Forbes)