WASHINGTON (BP)–The Senate approved legislation July 25 to block the transportation of underage girls across state lines to obtain abortions in avoidance of parental involvement laws in the girls’ home states.
Democratic opponents, however, immediately employed a procedural tactic to prevent the measure from progressing to congressional negotiators. The move left the proposal’s future in doubt.
Senators voted 65-34 for the Child Custody Protection Act, marking the first time the Senate has passed such a proposal. Until the action, the Senate had never voted on such legislation, even though the House of Representatives had approved a similar bill four times.
The House passed the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act in April 2005 with a 270-157 vote. Because the versions approved by the houses differ, a conference committee –- consisting of members from both the Senate and House -– is needed to work out differences. When the committee reports out a final version, both houses must pass it.
But when Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist moved after the July 25 vote for the bill to go to a conference committee, Sen. Richard Durbin, D.-Ill., the assistant minority leader, objected. Durbin’s opposition to a standard procedure blocked the proposal from further progress and threatened its final passage.
Southern Baptist pro-life leader Richard Land applauded the Senate vote but called for voters to act to bring about final passage of the legislation.
“I join millions of other pro-life parents in rejoicing that the Senate has finally passed this landmark legislation,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “People need to contact their congressmen and senators to ask that a conference committee be hastily named to reconcile the differences between the House-passed bill and the Senate legislation so President Bush can sign it into law as soon as possible.
“The passage of this legislation by a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate is an additional indication that we are slowly and surely winning the hearts and minds of Americans on the issues of the sanctity of human life and resisting governmental intrusion into the relationship between parents and a child,” Land told Baptist Press.
Democratic foes of the measure are “doing the bidding of the abortion lobby” in “obstructing” the bill, said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee.
NARAL Pro-choice America, the National Abortion Federation and Planned Parenthood Federation of America are among the abortion rights organizations that criticized Senate passage of the measure.
Bush reiterated July 25 his intention to sign the legislation when Congress sends it to him.
The selection of a conference committee “is premature,” Durbin said in explaining on the Senate floor his reason for objecting on behalf of other Democrats. The Senate debated the bill for only a short time, and the Judiciary Committee did not consider it before it came to the floor, he said.
Frist said he was disappointed at Durbin’s action. “I do hope that the objection we heard tonight does not represent obstruction” by Democratic foes, Frist said.
Unless Democratic opponents of the bill change their tactics, it appears more debate and a cloture vote will be needed to move the measure to a conference committee. Invoking cloture would require 60 votes.
The Senate is expected to go into a month-long recess beginning Aug. 4. Congressional leaders have set Oct. 6 as a target for adjournment, leaving the Senate and House only a month after they reconvene Sept. 5 to approve a final version of a bill regarding the interstate transportation of minors for abortions.
Durbin’s objection came even though Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and 13 other Democrats voted for the bill. They joined 51 Republicans in supporting the measure. Meanwhile, 29 Democrats, four Republicans and an independent voted against the legislation.
The Senate legislation (S. 403), like the House version (H.R. 748), is designed to protect the rights of parents in states that have enacted either parental notification or consent laws regarding abortions for minor girls.
The House version has a significant mandate not included in the Senate bill. It requires an abortion doctor in a state without a parental involvement law to inform a parent before he performs an abortion on a minor girl who lives in a different state. Exceptions exist when the girl has received a judicial bypass in her home state and when she qualifies in cases of abuse or medical emergencies.
There are 29 states that have effective parental involvement laws that are not being blocked by courts.
In addition to the 2005 vote, the House approved similar legislation in 1998, 1999 and 2002 without the Senate ever voting on it.
Opponents of the legislation have argued that girls would obtain unsafe abortions rather than tell their parents or seek a judicial bypass, especially in cases of sexual abuse by a father or stepfather.
Some minors travel from or are transported from states with parental involvement laws to neighboring states that have no such laws in order to undergo abortions. Abortion clinics in states without parental involvement laws sometimes advertise their services in adjacent states that have such laws.
Some studies have shown a majority of minors who become pregnant are impregnated by men 18 or older. The men, or their family members, sometimes take the minors across state lines to obtain abortions. Supporters of the proposals to ban such activities argue that these men have an incentive to keep the pregnancy hidden by means of secret abortions, since they are vulnerable to statutory rape charges.
In an April 2005 survey by The Polling Co., 82 percent of Americans disagreed with a person being able “to take a minor girl across state lines to obtain an abortion without her parents’ knowledge.”