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U.S. House Passes NRLC-backed Parental Notification Bill, 270-157

May 4, 2005 | Parental Involvement

WASHINGTON (May 4, 2005) – The U.S. House of Representatives on April 27 passed NRLC-backed legislation requiring parental notification for interstate abortions involving minors by a hefty margin, 270-157.

NRLC immediately called on the Democratic caucus in the U.S. Senate to stop obstructing parental notification legislation, as they have done successfully for years.

The bill passed by the House was the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act (CIANA, H.R. 748), sponsored by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fl.). (To see how House members voted on hostile amendments to the bill and on final passage, click here.)

About half of the states currently have parental notification or consent laws in effect. However, these laws are often circumvented by minors traveling or being transported to other states that do not have parental notification requirements, often under pressure from older boyfriends or at the urging of agents of abortion providers. The CIANA would make it a federal offense to transport a minor (age 17 or under) across state lines for an abortion if this is done to evade a state parental involvement law, unless a state court has issued a waiver.

In addition, H.R. 748 requires that in a state without a parental notification requirement, before an abortion provider may perform an abortion on a minor girl who is the resident of a different state, that provider must notify a parent — unless the minor has already received authorization from a judge in her home state (“judicial bypass”), or unless she is in danger of death.

If the minor asserts that she is the victim of abuse, the abortionist would notify the appropriate state child abuse agency instead of a parent.

The House rejected two amendments to exempt certain classes of non-parents, including members of the clergy, from the scope of the bill.

In the Senate, a narrower parental notification bill, the Child Custody Protection Act (S. 403), sponsored by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nv.), has 38 sponsors – 37 of them Republicans. Early this year, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tn.) and other Senate Republican leaders listed this bill among the “top ten” priorities.

In March, however, aides to Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nv.) rejected a Frist request to allow the bill to come to the floor without procedural obstruction by the Democrats.

Despite that action, following the lopsided April 27 House vote, Tessa Hafen, a spokeswoman for Reid, insisted to the Washington Times that no one had talked to Mr. Reid’s office about the bill and said it was premature to say what Senate Democrats will do.

“It is outrageous that the Senate Democratic caucus has thrown up procedural obstacles to block parental notification legislation, despite numerous polls showing that 75 percent or more of the public supports requiring parental notification,” commented NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson. “It is even more outrageous when they deny what they are doing.”

The House passed the Child Custody Protection Act in 1998, 1999, and 2002, but it never passed the Senate. In 1998, the bill died in the Senate after only two Democrats voted to curtail debate and amendments to the bill. One of the two was Reid, who became Democratic Leader after the previous Minority Leader, Sen. Tom Daschle (SD), lost his re-election bid last November.

In a statement released before the House debate, the White House said, “The Administration strongly supports House passage of H.R. 748, which would protect the health and safety of minors by ensuring that valid and constitutional State parental involvement laws are not circumvented. This bill is consistent with the Administration’s view that parents’ efforts to be involved in their children’s lives should be protected and the widespread belief among authorities in the field that the parents of pregnant minors are best suited to provide them with counsel, guidance, and support.”

House debate

The House conducted a spirited debate on the legislation. Supporters argued that a parent should at least be notified before an abortion is performed on a minor daughter, except in extreme circumstances described in the bill. Opponents insisted that minors should decide for themselves when to involve their parents.

“This bill prevents abusive boyfriends and older men from circumventing parental consent,” said Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), who chairs the House Judiciary Constitution Subcommittee, which had conducted hearings on the issue.

One leading opponent, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), said, “I know of no law that has attempted to do this kind of thing since the Fugitive Slave Act of the 1850s. This bill would make criminals of grandparents, boyfriends, brothers, sisters, and clergymen and women who try to help a young woman, a young woman who had a fear or alienation and thinks she cannot confide in her parents.”

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), an obstetrician-gynecologist and supporter of the bill, argued, “Children cannot even be given aspirin at school without their parents’ permission, so I cannot comprehend how anyone could possibly justify that administering an abortion is less traumatic or potentially dangerous than taking an aspirin.”

Opponent Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Tx.) asserted, “The [state] mandatory parental-involvement laws already create a draconian framework under which a young woman loses many of her civil rights.” Jackson-Lee offered an amendment to exempt “a grandparent of the minor or clergy person.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wi.), who managed the floor debate on the bill, urged rejection of the Jackson-Lee amendment, saying, “Under current law, grandparents and clergy do not have the authority to authorize a medical procedure for a minor child, or even ear piercings or the dispensing of aspirin at schools. So why should such a fundamental parental right be thrown aside for the abortion procedure alone? . . . Parents, not grandparents or undefined clergy, are legally, morally, and financially responsible for their children’s follow-up medical care.”

The Jackson-Lee Amendment failed, 177 to 252.

A variety of advocacy groups spoke out on both sides of the issue, before and after the House vote.

In an April 26 letter to lawmakers, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and the Society for Adolescent Medicine sent a letter to lawmakers opposing the CIANA.

The letter stated, “Our primary responsibility must be to our patients. The potential health risks to adolescents if they are unable to obtain reproductive health services are so compelling that deference to parental involvement should not stand in the way of needed health care for patients who request confidentiality.”

Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, lamented House approval of the bill and said, “It is not for anyone else but the woman and her doctor to decide how or when she should get an abortion.”

Cathy Cleaver Ruse, with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, said, “Abortion advocates have lost another round against a common-sense measure supported by most Americans. The practice of taking teens across state lines for secret abortions strikes at the heart of the family and the rights of parents. But more than that, it presents a grave danger to the girls who are subjected to an invasive surgical procedure without their medical history or records, and with no medical follow-up or intervention.”

In a national poll of 1,000 adults conducted April 21-24 by The Polling Company, Inc., released on April 27, respondents were asked, “Do you agree or disagree that a person should be able to take a minor girl across state lines to obtain an abortion without her parents’ knowledge? And would you say you strongly agree/disagree or somewhat agree/disagree?” 82% disagreed (including 75% who strongly disagreed and 7% who somewhat disagreed), while only 15% agreed (including 7% strongly agreed and 8% who somewhat agreed).

Resources

The NRLC webpage on parental notification contains documentation on other polls on parental notification, information on state parental notification laws, and powerful testimony presented to Congress in support of the bill, all at:

NRLC’s position on the CIANA (H.R. 748), including rebuttal to criticisms of the bill, was explained in a letter sent to U.S. House members on April 22, 2005.

Powerful testimony in support of the bill by Marcia Carroll of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, appeared in the April 2005 edition of NRL News on page 14, and is posted here.

ACTION REQUEST

Please urge your two U.S. Senators to support the Child Custody Protection Act (S. 403) by calling their Washington offices through the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 (just tell the operator what state you are calling from). You can also send them e-mail messages through the NRLC Legislative Action Center by clicking here.

The see an always-current list of Senate cosponsors of the Child Custody Protection Act, click here.

Please send a copy of any response you receive from a senator’s office to the NRLC Federal Legislation Department, by e-mail atLegfederal@aol.com or by fax to 202-347-3668.