Colorado secretary of state: 'We will stand firm' in blocking extradition of women who travel to get abortions

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Shortly after Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order Wednesday forbidding state officials from helping other states in criminal and civil investigations of women who travel there to receive abortions, Colorado's secretary of state, Jena Griswold, affirmed that her office would "not extradite anyone for a criminal violation of another state’s laws."

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last month, leaving abortion law up to the states, Republican-led legislatures in states like Arkansas and Texas have begun looking into passing measures that make it a crime for women to obtain the procedure in other states.

For Griswold, a Democrat, that would be a blatant overreach of government power, as she articulated in a Twitter thread on Wednesday.

"Every American should have the right to choose who to start a family with, if and when to start a family, and how many children to have," she wrote. "Pregnancy is never something that should be forced on women by the government."

The court's decision, however, has already led nine Republican-led states to ban abortion, and more restrictions are on the horizon. Many Democratic-led states, meanwhile, have looked to bolster protections for women seeking abortions and the medical providers offering it. The new patchwork reality promises that legal battles on abortion will continue to play out in the coming years.

In a conference call with Democratic governors last week, President Biden warned that "people are gonna be shocked when the first state ... tries to arrest a woman for crossing a state line to get health services."

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold speaks at a news conference in Denver in February.
Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold speaks at a news conference in Denver in February. (Hyoung Chang/MediaNews Group/Denver Post via Getty Images)

The coming extradition standoff has its roots in the U.S. Constitution. Article IV, Section II, Clause 2 states, "A person charged in any State with Treason, Felony, or other Crime, who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall on demand of the executive Authority of the State from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having Jurisdiction of the Crime."

The tricky part comes when the criminal offense in one state is legal in another. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, for example, required that Southern slaves who escaped to the North, where slavery was outlawed, be returned upon capture. The enforcement of that act over the staunch objections of abolitionists is one of the factors that eventually led to the outbreak of the Civil War.

Griswold's comments Wednesday made clear that secretaries of state, already on the frontlines of overseeing state elections, will play a central role in the looming fight over women traveling out of state to obtain an abortion.

"The Secretary of State’s Office plays a unique role in extraditions in Colorado," Griswold wrote Wednesday. "This paperwork must include the State Seal, and the Secretary of State has the legal authority to apply the seal to documents like this."

Yahoo News spoke with Griswold about the legal quagmire that the high court's decision has unleashed. The interview has been edited for clarity.

Yahoo News: Are you expecting a large influx of women traveling to Colorado to get an abortion?

Griswold: We believe so. There was already an increase from Western states of women looking to make decisions about their future and their body coming to Colorado. And, frankly, we will see women who can afford to do so travel from across the nation to the states that are still treating women as full people, as full citizens.

But we will also see, I believe, an increase in deaths of women. I don't know if you saw over the weekend the case out of Ohio where a 10-year-old who was raped was unable to access reproductive health care services. The idea that you would allow a 10-year-old who is raped, who could be a victim of incest, and force them to carry a child when they're a kid, I think, says everything you need to know about the policies being passed across the United States. It's about controlling women. This is about degrading us as not full citizens. Frankly, these extreme legislators and Supreme Court justices will have blood on their hands from the extreme policies that are being adopted across the country.

Is the state taking any measures to prepare for that?

The state of Colorado this last [legislative] session passed legislation that protect the rights to birth control and abortion care. That was done in the lead-up to what many of us believed was coming from the Supreme Court. I think the actions that the governor just took — and I joined him in making sure that we're looking at policies and are not helping states enforce some of these egregious laws — are important to do. The secretary of state's office is the guardian of the state seal — extraditions are signed by the governor of Colorado, and then I must put on the state seal and sign. So, it's really important to me being just the 10th woman ever elected to statewide office in the state of Colorado, and caring deeply about how women are treated across this country, to act. And I will not allow my office to be party to the criminalization of abortion patients or providers in Colorado or any other state.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis delivers his 2022 State of the State address at the Capitol in January.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis delivers his 2022 State of the State address at the Capitol in January. (Aaron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/Denver Post via Getty Images)

How unusual is it for one state to categorically refuse to participate in extradition proceedings due to conflicting laws?

We are seeing many states act in this way, refusing to extradite women who have to travel or doctors on the basis of laws that abridge Americans' fundamental freedoms.

In your statement on Twitter, you said you won't participate in extradition proceedings brought by other states on matters of abortion. Do you expect that will invite a court challenge?

I think whether there is a court challenge or not, we will stand firm with women and with abortion care providers across this country. I am proud that Colorado will continue to uphold Americans' freedoms, to make decisions about our bodies and health care without interference from government officials and that our state will remain a safe place for Americans who need access to this really critical, lifesaving care.

Given that the extradition clause is part of the U.S. Constitution and that conservatives now control the Supreme Court, are you concerned about how a legal challenge could play out?

I have full confidence in our attorney general, in our ability to uphold our decisions about fundamental freedoms. Make no mistake, this is a broader assault on our fundamental freedoms — including the right to vote, to privacy [and] to love freely — all to impose an extremist view of the few on the majority. Whether it's politicians who put these extreme justices on the Supreme Court and made overturning Roe a possibility, to the all-out assault on democracy and voters' power to fight back at the ballot box, there is a coordinated effort to roll back American freedoms.

I think there are many issues with the Supreme Court, whether it's Justice [Clarence] Thomas's blatant conflict of interest in having a wife being involved in the insurrection and failing to recuse himself — which, by the way, is an impeachable offense — to the fact that justices are unwilling to stand by their word in confirmation hearings in regards to precedent. I think it's time for people of good hearts and who believe in freedom to stand up for each other. The vast majority of Americans support access to abortion care. The vast majority of Americans want free and fair elections.

From a practical standpoint, say a woman from Texas travels to Colorado to have an abortion. If Texas does pass a law to punish women from traveling to undergo that procedure, how will state officials back in Texas gain access to the knowledge that the abortion took place?

Someone close to the person telling them. Texas has criminalized abortion care so far — or considered to — that they wanted taxi drivers to report to the government. So, of course, there are different ways to find out different information. HIPAA doesn't cover something like an employer knowing if an employee is traveling. This is a slippery slope into a country that people will not recognize and we can never allow a legal challenge to scare us from taking action, because the other side sure isn't.