Interstate Abortion Bill Clears Senate
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
The Senate voted yesterday to make it a crime to take a pregnant minor to another state to obtain an abortion without her parents' knowledge, handing a long-sought victory to the Bush administration and abortion opponents.
The bill would help about three dozen states enforce laws that require minors to notify or obtain the consent of their parents before having an abortion. It would bar people -- including clergy members and grandparents -- from helping a girl cross state lines to avoid parental-involvement laws. Violations could result in a year in prison.
Most states have passed such laws, but courts have invalidated at least nine of them, advocacy groups say. Maryland and Virginia have parental-notification laws; the District does not. The Senate voted 65 to 34 to approve the bill, which is similar to one the House has approved before, including last year.
The White House said the measure would "protect the health and safety of minors" and "protect the rights of parents to be involved in the medical decisions of their minor daughters consistent with the widespread belief among authorities in the field that it is the parents of a pregnant minor who are best suited to provide her counsel, guidance and support."
In a statement, President Bush said: "I appreciate the Senate's efforts to preserve the integrity of state law and protect our nation's families."
The administration urged House and Senate negotiators to reconcile their differences and send Bush a bill to sign. Unlike the Senate version, the House measure would penalize physicians who knowingly perform abortions for minors who circumvented parental-involvement laws.
Yesterday's vote marked the most significant congressional action on abortion in some time. Republicans, concerned about sagging poll numbers as they approach the November elections, have emphasized a "values agenda" that includes bids to ban flag desecration, same-sex marriage and estate taxes.
Democrats are pushing back, accusing Republicans of trying to frighten and divide the electorate rather than tackle tough issues such as high gasoline prices and the Iraq war. Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), an antiabortion Democrat who voted for the bill, will spend part of the summer stressing the need to prevent unwanted pregnancies, aides said.
The Senate vote was a victory for antiabortion activists who have tried in vain to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. For years, advocates on both sides of the issue have battled at the state level over narrower questions, including parental notification and consent for minors.
Fifty-one Republicans and 14 Democrats voted for the bill, while four Republicans, 29 Democrats and one independent voted against it. Sens. George Allen (R-Va.) and John W. Warner (R-Va.) voted for the measure; Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) and Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) voted against it.
The bill would not penalize a minor, or her parents, for crossing state lines to obtain an abortion.
Opponents said the Senate measure could threaten the safety of girls, saying parents might beat their daughters if they find out about plans for an abortion. The proponents' approach "is not to deal with the reality of young people" in troubled families, said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.). He cited the case of an Idaho man who impregnated his 13-year-old daughter and then killed her when he learned she had scheduled an abortion.
Proponents of the Senate bill said it would protect girls from being pressured by their boyfriends into having an abortion. "It's an affirmation of parental rights," said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). "An underage child cannot obtain an aspirin at school without parental consent," he said, adding that parents' role in their young daughter's decision about abortion is far more significant.
Senators voted 51 to 48 to reject an amendment drafted by Democrats that would have steered federal money to programs that educate teenagers about sexual abstinence and contraception.
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hailed the passage of the abortion measure, saying: "What opponents of this bill forget is that no parent wants anyone to take their children across state lines -- or even across the street -- without their permission. This is a fundamental right, and the Congress is right to uphold it in law."
Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called the Senate vote "an irresponsible action that will do nothing to protect young women's safety or improve family communication."
She said the measure "would prohibit anyone other than a parent -- including a grandparent, aunt, adult sibling or member of the clergy -- from accompanying a young woman across state lines for abortion care if the home state's parental-involvement law has not been met."
Caroline Fredrickson, Washington legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the measure "would put teens, especially the most vulnerable ones, at greater risk." She added: "Not all teenagers come from the perfect American family."