Bush Backs Abortion Measure

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By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 29, 2005

President Bush is urging the Senate to take up a bill passed by the House this week that makes it a federal crime -- complete with possible fines and jail sentences -- for doctors or other adults to help patients under 18 evade parental-notification requirements by crossing state lines for an abortion.

Opponents call it "the grandmother incarceration act" for the penalties that could be imposed on non-parents who travel with minors to end a pregnancy. But conservative groups say the measure is a way to ensure that the will of state legislatures is carried out, because it is now possible for a young woman to travel from one state to another with less restrictive laws to avoid having to tell a parent she plans to have an abortion.

The bill creates two federal crimes, each of which can carry a $100,000 fine, one year in jail or both. The bill's first section covers the transportation of a minor for an abortion. The second section requires the abortion provider to notify a minor's parent or legal guardian if she lives in a state with a parental-involvement law.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) said during the floor debate that the bill is "vital to parental rights."

Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council and father of three daughters, said in an interview that the bill was one of his group's top priorities for the year and called it "a recognition of parental authority."

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, countered that the bill is "a bureaucratic nightmare" and is part of a multi-track strategy by conservatives that includes packing the judiciary with judges sympathetic to their views.

The bill, the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act, passed the House on Wednesday night by 270 to 157, with 216 Republicans in favor and 145 Democrats against. Crossing party lines were 54 Democrats who supported the bill and 11 Republicans who opposed it. The bill makes an exception if the abortion is necessary to save the life of the minor. The House passed similar bills in 1998, 1999 and 2002, but none passed the Senate.

Bush, who comments on only a small fraction of bills that pass either chamber, said in a written statement that the law would "protect the health and safety of minors by ensuring that state parental involvement laws are not circumvented."

Lobbyists on both sides agreed that the measure will have a tougher time in the Senate, although Senate Republicans announced in January that it was one of their top 10 priorities for the year. A similar but not identical Senate bill has 37 co-sponsors. No committee action is required on the House bill, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) could put it on the floor at any time.

Douglas D. Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, said he is cautiously optimistic about Senate passage because of support for parental notification in public polls, and what he called "the realization among some Democratic lawmakers that they need to stop taking marching orders from extreme pro-abortion pressure groups."

The House bill has a provision, not in the Senate version, that requires an out-of-state abortion provider to notify one parent with three exceptions: if the patient shows documentation that she has exercised a judicial bypass provision; if she signs a statement saying she is a victim of neglect, or physical or sexual abuse, by a parent; or if her life is in danger.

Warren M. Siegel, director of adolescent medicine and chair of pediatrics at Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y., said in an interview that the law could lead minors to have later-term abortions because they might be more hesitant to consult an adult. "It's an unreasonable burden to have physicians know all the legal loopholes and laws in the 49 states that they don't practice in," he said.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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