WASHINGTON—Adults taking underage girls across state lines for abortions without parental consent will run into new legal roadblocks, if a U.S. House bill becomes law.
The House on June 30 voted 270-159 to pass the Child Custody Protection Act. The bill, introduced by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, RFla., would make it a federal offense for an adult to circumvent the authority of a parent or guardian by helping a minor child cross state lines to obtain an abortion.
The bill now moves to the Senate, where Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Fla., has introduced the measure. Ros-Lehtinen was hopeful about its prospects there.
She told the Register, “We need to protect young, vulnerable, teenaged girls. This bill also ensures parental involvement and parental rights. … The continued support from … grass-roots organizations will guarantee the Child Custody Protection Act's success in the Senate.”
Opponents of the act argued that the bill will harm some girls if it is made law.
Roger Rathman, vice president of media relations at Planned Parenthood in Washington, told the Register, “This bill reflects the huge disconnect in the House of Representatives. They must think everyone comes from a functional family. This law will hurt victims of child abuse or incest because it makes criminals out of adult non-family members trying to help these girls.”
But National Right to Life spokesman Doug Johnson said that teen-age girls are in far more danger of abuse without the bill.
“This legislation is needed because it is a common practice for older men who have impregnated a minor to take the girl across state lines where parental notification is not needed,” he said.
Gail Quinn, executive director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, agreed.
“Too often,” Quinn said in a statement, “those who are not parents circumvent state laws by taking young girls across state lines for secret abortions. … The Child Custody Protection Act will help remedy this usurpation of parental rights and responsibilities.”
The office of Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., provided the Register with examples of the problem the bill is addressing.
In testimony before Smith's House committee last year, Joyce Farley told the story of her daughter's rape and abortion.
“My daughter was provided alcohol, raped and then taken out of state by a stranger to have an abortion,” Farley said. “This stranger turned out to be the mother of the adult male who provided the alcohol and then raped my 12-year-old daughter while she was unconscious. The rapist's mother arranged and paid for an abortion to be performed on my child.”
Smith also provided the Register with an advertisement by a New Jersey company advertising its abortion services in the Scranton, Pa., Yellow Pages. The ad announces, “No Waiting Period. No Parental Consent Required.”
Clinton Veto Looms
The bill would give federal support to parental consent laws, requirements in 25 states that parents must be told of and agree to abortions performed on their children.
Quinn noted that parents are normally required to consent to medical procedures for their children. “Something as serious as abortion — a harmful, life-changing procedure — should not be an exception,” she said.
Johnson of National Right to Life added that the Supreme Court has upheld all laws recognizing that parental involvement in abortion should be encouraged, not discouraged, by state legislation.
If the bill passes the Senate, Johnson said its biggest threat will be President Clinton, who wants to add a measure which would exempt close family members, professionals and clergy from prosecution.
The White House confirmed that Clinton would probably veto the measure if it doesn't exempt other family members from prosecution.
If that happens, said Johnson, “The general presumption that parents have the best interests at heart for their children would be set aside. … All these other people would be given license from Congress to ignore state laws without impunity.”
Ellen Pearson writes from Washington, D.C.