Legal Vigilantism: A Discussion of the New Wave of Abortion Restrictions and the Fugitive Slave Acts
Written By: Isabella Oishi
With the passage of the Texas Heartbeat Act (SB 8) in September 2021, the Texas state legislature created a blueprint for other conservative state lawmakers to curtail abortion rights and avoid judicial review. By delegating enforcement of abortion restrictions to private citizens, the Texas legislature has deputized its entire population to stop abortions and punish those who conduct, aid, and abet abortions through lawsuits. Inspired by Texas lawmakers, the Missouri legislature has introduced an even more restrictive piece of abortion legislation that would extend the power to sue beyond state lines, allowing private citizens to sue anyone who helps a Missouri resident obtain an abortion, even if the abortion takes place in another state where abortion is legal. This is not the first time citizens have been tasked with depriving others of their rights. The Fugitive Slave Act deputized the entire population to recover fugitive enslaved people and return them to their enslaver, even in states where slavery was illegal. This article will discuss the implications of legislation which calls on private citizens to enforce laws which deprive others of their rights through a discussion of the new wave of abortion restrictions and the Fugitive Slave Act.