The term “internally displaced persons” is often used to describe people from Ukraine, Syria and countless other conflict zones around the world. They are refugees within their own borders, forced to flee home to find safety. We usually think this is happening a world outside of America, but the alarming truth is that the term could soon become a part of life here, and the unlikely cause is the withdrawal of Roe v. Wade.
Since 1973, many states have banned abortion, but there are many more to this day. Between existing and proposed abortion bans, this vital form of medical care will suddenly be out of reach for pregnant people in 26 states. But the situation is much worse than even those numbers sound.
In front of roe, abortion bans ended at the state line. As draconian as the penalties are, those who have the money, time and resources to leave can find care elsewhere. But the dobbs The decision portends a much darker future, one in which states have the tools to track down and punish their residents for out-of-state abortions.
About 50 years ago, it was impossible for Texas or Mississippi to send state troops to monitor every abortion provider in New York and Connecticut. It’s still impossible today, but they don’t have to send the Texas Rangers when they have google. Law enforcement officers will use the tools of modern law enforcement — location data from all of our devices, collecting our searches and social media content — to enforce backward abortion bans, and pregnant people will get stuck.
These patients – seeking care in an unknown state and facing an arrest warrant at home – will meet international criteria to: internally displaced. According to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, internally displaced persons are people who have been forced to flee their homes to prevent “human rights violations”. While America may soon be a country where our constitution omits any reproductive health protections, international law clearly disagreesstating that pregnant people have a fundamental right to access to abortion care.
Of course, in recent years, Americans have faced temporary displacement of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, but this kind of human rights-based displacement will be one of the largest in modern American history. We must prepare for displacement on a truly epic scale and invest now in the resources to support those displaced by flight in finding care.
To look for analogous examples of mass displacement—Americans forced from their homes by law, not nature—we look back at some of the darkest chapters in this country’s history: the Indian Removal Act, the Underground Railroad and the mass exodus of black southerners in the face of Jim Crow’s racist terrorism.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 600,000 abortions were performed every year for the last decade, a level of medical need that will not just disappear, despite the Supreme Court ruling. And hundreds of thousands of procedures have been performed in states that will soon ban or radically restrict care. Of course, not every abortion seeker will have the financial resources or physical ability to leave their state, especially underage incest survivors living under state tutelage, but tens of thousands or more likely will.
Abortion funds have for years supported out-of-state travel for abortion seekers and help pregnant people get to the states where they can receive care, but such trips have been largely short-lived in the past. Now pregnant people will need help with long-term moves and resettlement on a large scale.
This requires planning and investment from rights-protecting states, building the infrastructure to provide safe housing, medical care, job placement assistance and education, and financial support for those seeking safety within our borders. New York, Connecticut and other pro-choice states have already begun to recognize the reality and have banned extradition to anti-choice states for those accused of obtaining an illegal abortion. But while those extradition bans are vital to ensuring abortion seekers avoid arrest, they don’t go to great lengths to support those who suddenly find themselves stranded, stranded far from the only home they know.
Albert Fox Cahn is the founder and executive director of the Surveillance Technology Surveillance Project (STOP), a New York-based civil rights and privacy group, a TED fellow and a visiting fellow at Yale Law School’s Information Society Project.
Sam Van Dorani is Development Director at STOP and 2021 Fellow at Coro New York’s Immigrant Civic Leadership Program.