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House passes ban on transport of underage girls for abortions

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill to protect parents’ rights when an underage girl is seeking an abortion outside her state in order to avoid a parental involvement law.

In action April 17, the House voted 260-161 in favor of the Child Custody Protection Act, H.R. 476. The legislation would make it a federal offense for a person to transport a minor across state lines for an abortion when the state in which the girl lives requires either parental notification or consent before such a procedure.

It marks the third time in five years the House has approved the bill. It appears, however, Senate approval may be a problem again. The House easily adopted the measure in 1998 and 1999, but the bill died in the Senate both times.

President Clinton refused to endorse the legislation when it was passed by the House previously, but supporters of the bill are hopeful President Bush will back it.

The House “did the right thing,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “The sad thing is that 161 representatives, each elected to Congress by the people of their district, voted against this legislation.

“One representative, ironically named [Louise] Slaughter, said the bill was ‘blatantly unconstitutional,'” Land said. Arguing for the constitutionality of “interposing another adult between a parent and child when it comes to the question of aborting the parent’s grandchild and the child’s child should be beyond comprehension,” Land said. “Clearly for 161 members of Congress it isn’t. And we wonder why families often feel assaulted by their government.”

At least 24 states have laws that require the notification or consent of at least one parent or a guardian, or authorization by a judge, before a minor can have an abortion, according to the National Right to Life Committee. The House-approved measure does not require any state to adopt a parental involvement law.

Some studies have shown a majority of minors who become pregnant are impregnated by men 18 or older. Supporters of the Child Custody Protection Act argue such a man has an incentive to keep the pregnancy hidden by means of a secret abortion, since he is vulnerable to a statutory rape charge.

In the best-known example of such an incident, a Pennsylvania eighth-grader was secretly taken to New York in 1995 for an abortion by the stepmother of the 18-year-old man who impregnated her. Such occurrences may not be rare. Also in 1995, abortion-rights lawyer Kathryn Kolbert of the New York-based Center for Reproductive Law and Policy said, according to a news report, thousands of adults are helping minors travel from states with parental involvement laws in order to obtain abortions.

Opponents of the bill have argued in part it will cause girls to obtain unsafe abortions to avoid informing their parents or seeking a judicial bypass.

Carlton Veazey, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, called the bill “mean-spirited” and criticized the rejection of an amendment that would have protected from prosecution adult family members and religious counselors who transport girls to other states for abortions.

“This bill doesn’t improve family communications or help girls,” Veazey said in a written release. “This is not a bill about solutions; it’s a bill about punishments.”

Laura Echevarria, NRLC’s director of media relations, said in a written release her organization believes Congress “should not override state laws by empowering siblings, boyfriends or other persons who do not hold parental authority under the pertinent state laws.”

In the vote on the bill’s passage, 58 Democrats and an independent joined 201 Republicans in approving the measure. Fourteen Republicans and an independent voted with 146 Democrats against the bill.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R.-Fla., is the bill’s chief House sponsor, as she was during its previous passage by representatives.