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Senate Votes to Curb Teen Abortion Access

by Jessica Azulay

July 26, 2006 – The US Senate yesterday reinforced parental control over children’s reproductive rights by passing legislation to keep young women from traveling across state lines to obtain otherwise legal abortions.

Once merged with a similar House bill and signed by President Bush, the Child Custody Protection Act, passed 65–34, would add more teeth to parental-notification and -consent laws enacted in the majority of states. The bill criminalizes adults who help young women circumvent those laws by going out of state to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

Anti-abortion-rights groups hailed the vote, saying it would protect parents’ "right" to know when their children are considering an abortion.

The National Right to Life Committee has argued that interstate enforcement of parental-consent and -notification laws is necessary to prevent older men from forcing their teenage partners to obtain abortions in order to cover up evidence of statutory rape. The group has also said that if parents do not know about their children’s health decisions, they will be unprepared to recognize any physical complications that arise from an abortion.

Abortion-rights groups immediately blasted the bill – which they have dubbed the "Teen Endangerment Act" – saying it fails to recognize the complexity of family situations and would threaten teens whose parents are abusive by cutting off their access to adults they do trust.

Abortion-rights groups immediately blasted the bill, which they have dubbed the “Teen Endangerment Act.”

"Restrictive legislation does not necessarily foster good family communications," said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, in a press statement. "This bill would endanger teens by eliminating safe alternatives to parental involvement. Aunts, sisters, grandmothers, clergy, counselors and friends could be fined or imprisoned for helping a teen who may be a victim of family abuse, rape or incest."

While no one has documented the extent to which teens are circumventing parental-consent laws by traveling to states that do not prioritize parental authority over girls’ prerogatives to choose, the reasons young women might do so have been studied.

As previously reported by The NewStandard, research by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in 1996 found that a significant portion – one third – of pregnant teens who do not tell their parents they intend to get an abortion do so because they "already have experienced family violence and fear it will recur."

The AAP report is a survey of existing data about parental involvement in teens’ reproductive healthcare decisions. The Academy also found that "research on abusive and dysfunctional families shows that violence is at its worst during a family member’s pregnancy" and that "although parental involvement in minors’ abortion decisions may be helpful in many cases, in others it may be punitive, coercive or abusive."

The reasons young women might choose to circumvent parental-consent laws are varied.

The House passed a similar, but slightly harsher bill last year. Unlike the Senate measure, the House legislation would criminalize doctors who perform abortions on minors who have not complied with their home state’s parental consent or notification laws. It would also require physicians to notify the parents of most out-of-state minors 24 hours before performing an abortion, even if the minor is from a state without a parental-notification law.

Upon passage of the bill in the Senate, the Democratic leadership used a procedural maneuver to block the choosing of lawmakers who would negotiate differences with the House measure, putting final passage of the bill by both chambers of Congress on at least temporary hold.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.


This News Report originally appeared in the July 26, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Jessica Azulay is a staff journalist.

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