Abortion Sanctuary

Nationwide Campaign To Create an Abortion Sanctuary Network

Starts in New York

6/23/2022 by Carrie N. Baker

Women rally for reproductive rights in Terryville, N.Y., on May 14, 2022. (J. Conrad Williams Jr. / Newsday RM via Getty Images)

Faced with the likely end of Roe v. Wade, reproductive rights advocates are seeking to create a nationwide sanctuary network for abortion services by passing interlocking legislation in blue states to ensure every American can safely access legal abortion services.

In May, New York Assemblymember Charles Lavine introduced the Geraldine Santoro Act to help women from states banning abortion to travel to New York and obtain abortion healthcare.

“The Santoro Act is the first step toward creating a nationwide sanctuary network for women in need and the first-ever private-public partnership to build a war chest to ensure reproductive autonomy,” said Lavine when he introduced the bill.

The bill is named after Geraldine Santoro, who died from an unsafe abortion in 1964. A police photograph of her dead body, published in Ms. magazine in 1973, became a symbol of the abortion rights movement in the United States.

The legislation would establish an office within the New York Department of Health that would create a nonprofit corporation to administer the program with a $15 million appropriation. The nonprofit would facilitate travel arrangements, lodging and medical appointments for women who need them, and pay the costs where eligible. The law encourages the nonprofit to enter into pacts with other states that enact similar laws so states can pool their resources, serve the greatest number of patients and use their funds in the most efficient manner. The goal is that patients “can be treated in the least disruptive and most compassionate manner, with the least amount of travel.”

Supporters of the bill hope for passage of replica Santoro acts in state legislatures across the country.

“What we’re talking about is the departments of health in all of these states coming together and forming an umbrella group to run the infrastructure,” said attorney Jim Walden, who drafted the legislation and is a managing partner at Walden, Macht & Haran. “That’s important to make sure that the application process is easy, accessible and well known, and that it happens quickly, especially for those women that are in crisis, so that they can get accurate information and get immediate attention and services.”

The law encourages the nonprofit to enter into pacts with other states that enact similar laws so states can pool their resources, serve the greatest number of patients and use their funds in the most efficient manner.

Walden, who is leading the fundraising efforts directed at private philanthropists for a new abortion access fund, explained how the process would work.

“We need the departments of health from all of the sanctuary states to come together and adopt a common application, available in every language imaginable, on a central website. The steering committee of all of these different states would administer the program and there’d be staff. They would all then have a set of policies, procedures and protocols that were understood and well known within this multistate agency,” said Walden.

The bill provides for a fast-track option in which applicants for financial assistance receive notice of the determination on their application within 48 hours of the application’s receipt.

Walden also says that states would have a “concerted fundraising effort and compacts between the states. They would have contracts with airlines and with national hotels, and individual contracts with abortion providers and other professionals, so that there’s high quality services at the lowest possible cost. All that infrastructure needs to be built,” Walden told Ms.

Another section of the act replicates the Texas bounty hunter law in reverse, creating a right for anyone to bring a civil action against any person who obstructs, impedes or hinders any woman from exercising the right to abortion, any medical professional who provides abortions or abortion-related services to any woman, or anyone who aids or abets any action interfering with access to abortion. Courts can award successful plaintiffs damages in an amount of not less than $50,000 for each abortion the defendant obstructed in violation of the law, as well as attorneys’ fees.