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House passes bill protecting parental rights on abortions; Senate outlook uncertain

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. House of Representatives easily approved April 27 a bill to prevent interstate abortions on minors without parental notice.

The House voted 270-157 for the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act, which would outlaw the transportation of a minor by a non-parent or non-guardian to another state for an abortion when the girl’s home state requires parental notification or consent.

More than one-fourth of House Democrats joined most of the Republicans to pass H.R. 748. Among Democrats, 54 voted for the bill, while 145 opposed it. Only 11 GOP members voted against the measure, while 216 Republicans favored it. The House’s lone independent voted against it.

The legislation is expected to face a more difficult test in the Senate, although pro-lifers made gains in the November election. The House has approved similar legislation three previous times — 1998, 1999 and 2002 — without the Senate ever voting on it. This year’s House action was a 10-vote gain from 2002.

The Senate Republican leadership has made a similar measure, the Child Custody Protection Act, S. 431, one of its top 10 priorities, but Democrats are working to block it. The bill, sponsored by Sen. John Ensign, R.-Nev., has 37 cosponsors, including one Democrat, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

President Bush has said he will sign the legislation. On the day of the House vote, the White House released a statement endorsing H.R. 748, saying it is “consistent with the administration’s view that parents’ efforts to be involved in their children’s lives should be protected.”

Southern Baptist ethics leader Richard Land said enactment of the bill was “long overdue.”

“This is a victory for unborn babies; it’s a victory for underage mothers, and it’s a victory for parents,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “This is one more example of every Congress becoming more pro-life than the last Congress. And this is one of the many evidences we will see that elections do matter.”

The House version has a mandate not included in previous versions. It requires an abortion doctor in a state without a parental notification 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.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R.-Fla., chief House sponsor, called the bill “commonplace and common-sense legislation” in a floor speech before the vote.

“This legislation will put an end to the abortion clinics and family planning organizations that exploit young, vulnerable girls by luring them to recklessly disobey state laws,” she said.

Some opponents of the bill argued 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 step-father.

Twenty-four states have laws in effect 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 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 these men have an incentive to keep the pregnancy hidden by means of secret abortions, since they are vulnerable to statutory rape charges.

In a March hearing before a House subcommittee, a Lancaster, Pa., mother said her daughter, who was pregnant at 14 years of age, had decided to give birth to her baby when her boyfriend’s parents intervened, the Associated Press reported. They took the teenager to a New Jersey abortion clinic and refused to return her to her home until she had an abortion, Marcia Carroll testified, according to AP. The trip to another state avoided Pennsylvania’s parental notification law.

“No one should be able to circumvent state laws by performing an abortion in another state on a minor daughter without parental consent,” Carroll was quoted as saying in AP.

In an April 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.”