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Committee approves bill banning transport of minors for abortions

WASHINGTON (BP) — The U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee has approved legislation prohibiting the transportation of minors across state lines for abortions in order to evade state parental involvement laws.
Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, R.-Ga., and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R.-Miss., have both said they plan floor votes this summer on the Child Custody Protection Act.
The bill would make it an offense for a person to transport a minor to another state for an abortion without the parents’ involvement when the state in which the girl lives requires either parental notification or consent before such a procedure. A person violating the law could be fined and/or be imprisoned for a maximum of a year. The legislation also would permit parents to sue those who violate the law.
In Judiciary Committee action June 23 preceding a 17-10 vote for the bill, it was amended to protect an underage girl who has an abortion or her parents from being prosecuted. The amended version approved by the committee also provides a defense for people involved in transportation of the minor who may have thought they were complying with state law.
The White House, meanwhile, said in a letter it “strongly opposes the bill” unless changes are made. In a June 17 letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R.-Ill., President Clinton’s chief of staff, Erskine Bowles, said among the amendments required for White House support is the exclusion of “close family members” — such as grandmothers, aunts and siblings — from liability.
Doug Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, decried the White House’s position, saying in a written release, “Apparently President Clinton believes that a mother-in-law or aunt should be able to take a child to a different state for a secret abortion, while the parent is kept in the dark.”
In May, the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission endorsed the legislation in a joint letter to members of Congress. Other organizations signing onto the letter were the National Right to Life Committee, Family Research Council, Christian Coalition and Concerned Women for America.
The issue was brought to the public’s attention largely by the 1995 case of a Pennsylvania eighth-grader who was transported to New York for an abortion by the stepmother of the 18-year-old man who impregnated her. Apparently, such efforts to keep parents from knowing of a daughter’s pregnancy and/or abortion take place with some frequency. Abortion rights lawyer Kathryn Kolbert of the New York-based Center for Reproductive Law and Policy said in 1995 thousands of adults are helping minors travel from states with parental involvement laws to obtain abortions, according to an Associated Press article in The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Twenty-two states have laws in effect requiring the notification or consent of at least one parent or guardian, or authorization by a judge, before a minor can have an abortion.
The bill is H.R. 3682 in the House and S. 1645 in the Senate. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R.-Fla., is the lead sponsor in the House, and Sen. Spencer Abraham, R.-Mich., is the chief sponsor in the Senate.