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Why We Need the Child Custody Protection Act

Apr 8, 1999 | Parental Involvement

Prepared by the Federal Legislative Office
of the National Right to Life Committee

Updated April 8, 1999

 Overview

The Child Custody Protection Act (CCPA) is a proposal to make it a federal offense to transport a minor across state lines for an abortion, if this action circumvents the application of a state law requiring parental involvement in a minor’s abortion (or judicial waiver of such a requirement). The prime sponsor of the Senate bill

(S. 661) is Senator Spencer Abraham (R-Mi.). The prime sponsors of the House bill (H.R. 1218) are Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fl.) and James Barcia (D-Mi.).

At least 20 states have laws in effect that require the consent or notification of at least one parent, or court authorization, before a minor can obtain an abortion.

The CCPA would curb much of the currently widespread interstate circumvention of these laws, thereby protecting the rights of parents and the interests of vulnerable minors. The CCPA is not a federal parental involvement law; it merely ensures that these state laws are not evaded through interstate activity. The CCPA does not encroach on state powers, but rather reinforces state powers.

A parent would object to the interference with parental rights if the minor were taken out of state for, say, a large tattoo, in avoidance of the home state’s law requiring parental consent for a tattoo. But the interstate activity addressed by the CCPA is even more deplorable, considering the serious physical and psychological consequences of abortion, and the evidence that interstate transportation of minors to procure abortions often serves to conceal criminal activity such as statutory rape.

These parental involvement laws enjoy widespread support among the American people. A 1998 New York Times/CBS News poll found that 78 percent of Americans support parental consent before an abortion is performed on a girl under age 18. When Americans are asked about parental notification, support is even higher. A 1992 national poll by the Wirthlin Group found that 80 percent of Americans support requiring parental notification before an abortion is performed on a girl under age 18.

However, some of these laws are frequently circumvented by adults who transport minors to abortion providers in neighboring states which do not have parental notification or consent laws. The American public strongly opposes this interstate abortion activity. A national poll of 1,000 registered voters, conducted June 6-8, 1998, by the respected firm of Baselice & Associates, asked this question: “Should a person be able to take a minor girl across state lines to obtain an abortion without her parents’ knowledge?” 78% stronglydisagreed, and another 7% somewhat disagreed, for a total of 85%. Three percent (3%) somewhat agreed and 6% strongly agreed for a total of 9%.

The transporting of minors across state lines for abortions, to circumvent state parental involvement laws, is both widespread and frequent. Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, has acknowledged that the CCPA would affect thousands of teenage girls. (AGOP Moves to Bolster Rights of Parents in Teen Abortions,@ The Washington Times, May 12, 1998.) In 1995, Kathryn Kolbert, then an attorney with the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy (a national pro-abortion legal defense organization) asserted that thousands of adults are helping minors cross state lines to get abortions in states whose parental involvement requirements are less stringent or non-existent. She asked, “How does a 14-year-old get to New Hampshire from Boston without getting a ride?” (See “Woman Charged in Secret Abortion, Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 16, 1995.) Only Congress, with its constitutional authority to regulate interstate commerce, can curb this egregious conduct.

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Hartford

A recent criminal prosecution in Pennsylvania revealed an outrageous example of the interstate abortion activity that is occurring without parental knowledge or consent. This case, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Hartford, involves a prosecution against an adult, Rosa Hartford, for interference with the custody of a child. Rosa Hartford’s 18-year-old adult son had sex with a 12-year-old girl, Crystal Lane; she became pregnant. Crystal lived with her mother, Joyce Farley, who had never met Rosa Hartford, and who did not even know that Crystal was pregnant. Pennsylvania law requires parental consent prior to an abortion on a minor. Nevertheless, Rosa Hartford took the girl (who had just turned 13) without her mother’s knowledge, on a school day, on a 60-mile trip to an abortion clinic in New York, where an abortion was performed.

At the abortion clinic, Ms. Hartford represented to the clinic that she was Crystal=s stepmother until she learned that the state police had been contacted, at which point she told the clinic staff the truth.

Pennsylvania authorities prosecuted Rosa Hartford, who was convicted of interfering with the custody of a child. This offense is defined as “knowingly or recklessly” taking or enticing “any child under the age of 18 years from the custody of its parent, guardian or other lawful custodian,” without the privilege to do so. She was sentenced to one year’s probation, 150 hours of community service, and the prosecution costs. (Her son pled guilty to two counts of statutory rape.)

At trial and on appeal, Rosa Hartford was represented by a national abortion-rights legal center, the New York-based Center for Reproductive Law and Policy (CRLP). The core of the CRLP’s defense was that the conduct of Rosa Hartford was protected by the U.S. Constitution, because Hartford did no more than help the girl exercise her constitutional “right to abortion” under Roe v. Wade. “The young woman’s constitutional right to choose abortion outweighs any interest her parents have in denying her the assistance of another adult to effectuate her decision. . . . the ‘deference to parents [that] may be permissible with respect to other choices facing a minor’ has no place where a young woman seeks to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.” (Brief of Defendant-Appellant, pp. 26-27). “If we permit any local prosecutor to bring these types of charges, we would totally undermine the rights of young women to choose abortion,” CRLP attorney Kathryn Kolbert said. (See “Woman Faces Trial in Abortion,” The Washington Post, Nov. 3, 1995).

Other pro-abortion groups weighed in on the Hartford case, asserting that Rosa Hartford did nothing wrong since she was helping the young girl obtain an abortion. An amici curiae brief filed by Allegheny Reproductive Health Services, National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League of Pennsylvania, Planned Parenthood of Chester County, and others, asserted that “Pennsylvania’s criminal Interference with the Custody of a Minor statute . . . does not apply to the conduct of adults who help young women obtain legal abortions or other reproductive health care to which minors may validly consent without parental permission. C.L. [the 13-year-old girl] had a right to consent on her own to the reproductive health care she sought and obtained through Mrs. Hartford’s assistance.” (footnote omitted)

The constitutional argument was rejected by the Pennsylvania trial court and by a state appeals court. The appeals court noted that the minor had always had available to her the right to obtain an abortion without parental involvement, through the judicial bypass provision of the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act. Moreover, with respect to the question of custody, the court noted that “although a parent’s right to make decisions for her child is tempered in the instance of abortion, at least in Pennsylvania that parent has the legitimate expectation that procedural safeguards designed to protect the minor will be observed,” that is, that “another responsible adult (i.e., a judge) will provide some oversight to that decision.” [Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Hartford, No. 00088PHL97 (Pa. Super. Ct. Oct. 28, 1997).]

The court stated that the Pennsylvania state law pertaining to interference with the custody of children can be applied if an unauthorized adult were to take “a minor across the Commonwealth’s border in order to evade Pennsylvania’s procedural scheme and, without the consent of the parent, exercises a custodial function related to the performance of an abortion.” (Id.) However, the appeals court remanded the case for a new trial due to supposedly erroneous jury instructions. The case has since been appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The Prevalence of this Interstate Activity

News reports and published studies reveal that large numbers of minors are crossing state lines to obtain abortions, and that many of these cases involve adults other than parents transporting the minors. CRLP attorney Kathryn Kolbert acknowledged, “There are thousands of minors who cross state lines for an abortion every year and who need the assistance of adults to do that.” (“Labor of Love is Deemed Criminal,”The National Law Journal, Nov. 11, 1996.)

 Pennsylvania

Take for instance, Pennsylvania, the state where the minor involved in the Hartford case resides. Since Pennsylvania’s current parental consent law took effect in March of 1994, news reports have repeatedly maintained that Pennsylvania teenagers are going out of state to New Jersey and New York for abortions. In fact, in 1995 The New York Times reported, “Planned Parenthood in Philadelphia has a list of clinics, from New York to Baltimore, to which they will refer teen-agers, according to the organization’s executive director, Joan Coombs.” Moreover, the Times gave accounts of clinics which had seen an increase in patients from Pennsylvania. One clinic, in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, reported seeing a threefold increase in Pennsylvania teenagers coming for abortions, to a rate of approximately six girls per week. Likewise, a clinic in Queens, New York reported that it was not unusual to see Pennsylvania teenagers as patients in 1995, though it had earlier been rare. (“Teen-Agers Cross State Lines in Abortion Exodus,” The New York Times, Dec. 18, 1995.)

In the period just prior to the Pennsylvania law’s taking effect, efforts were underway to make it easier for teenagers to go out of state for abortions. For instance, Newsday reported that “[c]ounselors and activists are meeting to plot strategy and printing maps with directions to clinics in New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Washington, D.C., where teenagers can still get abortions without parental consent. . . . ‘We will definitely be encouraging teenagers to go out of state,’ said Shawn Towey, director of the Greater Philadelphia Woman’s Medical Fund, a nonprofit organization that gives money to women who can’t afford to pay for their abortions.” (Newsday, Feb. 22, 1994).

Moreover, some abortion clinics in nearby states, such as New Jersey and Maryland, use the lack of parental involvement requirements in their own states as a “selling point” in advertising directed at minors in Pennsylvania. One ad that appeared in the 1996 Yellow Pages for Scranton, Pennsylvania was purchased by Metropolitan Medical Associates, an abortion clinic in Englewood, New Jersey. Unlike Pennsylvania, which has a parental consent law, in New Jersey, as the ad proclaims, “No Parental Consent Required.” It is noteworthy that in September, 1996, a reporter for The Record newspaper published in nearby Hackensack, New Jersey, was told by two staff abortionists at the Metropolitan Medical clinic that at least 1,500 partial-birth abortions are performed in the clinic annually. “Most are teenagers,” one doctor told the newspaper. (See “The Facts on Partial-Birth Abortion,” by Ruth Padawer, The Record, Sept. 15, 1996.)

Another ad appeared in the 1997-98 Yellow Pages for Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The purchaser, Hillcrest Women’s Medical Center, maintains a clinic in Harrisburg, but the ad also promotes the option of going to a sister clinic in Rockville, Maryland (about 100 miles) — where, the ad notes, “No Waiting Period” and “No Parental Consent” requirements apply.

Missouri

In 1997, a study in the American Journal of Public Health reported that the main abortion clinic in Missouri refers minors out of state for abortions if the girl does not want to involve her parents. Reproductive Health Services, which performs over half of the abortions performed in Missouri, refers minors to the Hope Clinic for Women in Illinois. In the first quarter of 1989, the Hope Clinic performed 101 abortions on minors from Missouri. (See Charlotte Ellertson, “Mandatory Parental Involvement in Minors’ Abortions: Effects of the Laws in Minnesota, Missouri, and Indiana,” American Journal of Public Health, August, 1997.) Research has found that based on the available data, the odds of a minor traveling out of state for an abortion increased by over 50 percent when Missouri’s parental consent law went into effect. Furthermore, it was found that compared to older women, underage girls were significantly more likely to travel out of state. (Id.)

A 1999 news report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch confirms that the Hope Clinic in Illinois continues to be a magnet for underage girls seeking abortions without parental involvement. A counselor at the clinic estimates that she sees two girls a week who are avoiding their home state’s parental involvement law. One recent example was a 16-year-old girl from Missouri whose boyfriend had called clinics in St. Louis only to learn that parental consent was required for a minor’s abortion. At this one clinic alone — the Hope Clinic — there were 3,200 abortions on out-of-state women last year, which the clinic’s executive director estimates makes up about 45 percent of the clinic’s total clientele. These clients were primarily from Missouri. ThePost-Dispatch reports that the clinic does not keep statistics of how many abortions are performed on minors from out-of-state, but that the executive director estimates that 13 percent of its clients are minors. (“Illinois May Tighten Rules on Abortions For Teens; Parental Consent is Not Required Abortion Bill Targets Illinois as Teen Haven; For Abortion,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 25, 1999.)

The Hope Clinic has touted the fact that no parental consent is required in both its Yellow Pages listing and in its radio ad. Jan Boyle, with Missouri Right-to-Life in St. Louis, was quoted as saying: “All you need to do is listen to the (St. Louis) radio stations . . . . They advertise for Hope Clinic in Granite City [Illinois].”

The state of Illinois is a particular attraction for underage girls because many of its neighboring states have parental involvement laws. Pam Sutherland of Illinois Planned Parenthood acknowledged, “We are the only state in a sea of states that all have consent and notification laws.” The Post-Dispatch writes, ‘[s]he said border-crossing into Illinois for abortions ‘happens all the time.'”

Massachusetts

Massachusetts has also seen an increase in out-of-state abortions performed on its teenage residents since that state=s parental consent law went into effect in April of 1981, according to a published study, as well as anecdotal information. A 1986 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that in the four months prior to implementation of the parental consent law, an average of 29 Massachusetts minors obtained out-of-state abortions per month (in Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and New York — data for Maine was not available). But after the parental consent law was implemented, the average jumped to between 90 and 95 out-of-state abortions per month (using data from the five states of Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York, and Maine) — representing one-third of the abortions obtained by Massachusetts’ minors.

In addition, the study found that when Rhode Island implemented its parental consent law in September 1982, abortions performed on Massachusetts minors in Rhode Island fell from an average of 40 to 12 per month. Meanwhile, Connecticut abortions involving Massachusetts minors rose from four per month to 14, and New Hampshire abortions involving Massachusetts minors rose from 42 to 53 per month. This led the authors to state that it “is clear that the distribution of minor women in states other than their home state is dramatically and immediately affected by the presence of a parental consent law.”

The study noted that due to what the authors described as “astute marketing,” one abortion clinic in New Hampshire was able to nearly double the monthly average of abortions performed on Massachusetts minors (from 14 in 1981 to 27 in 1982). The abortionist “began advertising in the 1982 Yellow Pages of metropolitan areas along the northern Massachusetts border, stating ‘consent for minors not required.'” (Virginia G. Cartoof and Lorraine V. Klerman, “Parental Consent for Abortion: Impact of the Massachusetts Law,”American Journal of Public Health, April 1986.)

In April of 1991, the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts estimated that approximately 1,200 Massachusetts minor girls travel out-of-state for abortions each year, the majority of them to New Hampshire. Planned Parenthood said that surveys of New Hampshire clinics revealed an average of 100 appointments per month by Massachusetts minors. (“Mass. Abortion Laws Push Teens Over Border,” Boston Sunday Herald, April 7, 1991.)

Mississippi

A 1995 study of the effect of Mississippi’s parental consent law revealed that Mississippi also has had an increase in the number of minors traveling out-of-state for abortion. The study, published in Family Planning Perspectives, compared data for the five months before the parental consent law took effect in June of 1993, with data for the six months after it took effect, and found that “[a]mong Mississippi residents having an abortion in the state, the ratio of minors to older women decreased by 13% . . . [h]owever, this decline was largely offset by a 32% increase in the ratio of minors to older women among Mississippi residents traveling to other states for abortion services.”

Based on the available data, the study suggests that the Mississippi parental consent law appeared to have “little or no effect on the abortion rate among minors but a large increase in the proportion of minors who travel to other states to have abortions, along with a decrease in minors coming from other states to Mississippi.”
(Stanley K. Henshaw, “The Impact of Requirements for Parental Consent on Minors’ Abortions in Mississippi,” Family Planning Perspectives, June, 1995.)

Virginia

Grace S. Sparks, executive director of the Virginia League of Planned Parenthood, predicted in February of 1997 that if Virginia were to pass a parental notification law, teenagers would travel out of state for abortions. “In every state where they’ve passed parental notification, . . . there’s been an increase in out-of-state abortions,” she said, adding, “I suspect that that’s what will happen in Virginia, that teen-agers who cannot tell their parents, . . . will go out of state and have abortions . . . .” (Style Weekly, Feb. 11, 1997).

Virginia’s parental notification law took effect on July 1, 1997. In the first six months that the law was in effect, there were 62 fewer abortions performed on Virginia minors (from 983 abortions during the same time period in 1996 to 921 abortions in 1997). (“Fewer Va. Girls Get Abortions; Parental Notification Cited,” The Washington Times, Aug. 9, 1998). This represents a 6 percent drop. At the same time, abortions performed on Virginia women of all ages increased by 2 percent. (“Number of Abortions for Virginia Minors Drops Slightly,” The Virginian-Pilot, Aug. 3, 1998.)

However, a 1998 Washington Post article suggests that Virginia teenagers are traveling to the District of Columbia in order to obtain abortions without involving their parent. In fact, the National Abortion Federation (NAF), which runs a toll-free national abortion hotline, said that calls from Virginia teenagers seeking information on how to obtain an abortion out-of-state were the largest source of teenage callers seeking out-of-state abortions, at seven to 10 calls per day. They are mainly from southern and central Virginia. NAF hotline operator Amy Schriefer has gone so far as to talk a Richmond area teenage girl through the route (involving a Greyhound bus and the Metro’s Red Line) to obtain an abortion in the District of Columbia. (“Fewer Teens Receiving Abortions In Virginia,” The Washington Post, March 3, 1998.)

Three to four Virginia teenagers per month visit the Planned Parenthood of Metro Washington clinic, most of them from the state’s southern half and Tidewater. It appears that the number of out-of-state teenagers coming into Virginia for abortions has declined as a result of the new law. Planned Parenthood of the Blue Ridge in Roanoke reports a drop from 30 out-of-state teenagers seeking abortions in 1996 (mainly from North Carolina and West Virginia), to not one out-of-state teenager from July, 1997 to March, 1998. (Id.)

Adult Male Sexual Partners and the CCPA

The majority of today’s teenage mothers are being impregnated by adult men. In its 1995 Report to Congress on Out-of-Wedlock Childbearingthe U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that “evidence . . . indicates that among unmarried teenage mothers, two-thirds of the fathers are age 20 or older, suggesting that differences in power and status exist between many sexual partners.”
[U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Report to Congress on Out-of-Wedlock Childbearing, September 1995, Executive Summary, p. x].

A study of 46,500 school-age mothers in California, published in the American Journal of Public Health in 1996, provides further evidence of this. This study of California school-age girls found that two-thirds of the girls were impregnated by adult, postschool fathers, with the median age of the father being 22 years[Mike Males and Kenneth S.Y. Chew, “The Ages of Fathers in California Adolescent Births, 1993,” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 86, no. 4 (April 1996)].

In another study, which was conducted on a national scale and published in Family Planning Perspectives, it was found that “[h]alf of the fathers of babies born to women aged 15-17 were 20 years of age or older.” Furthermore, the study revealed that on average, the baby’s father was four years older than these 15-17-year-old mothers. The age disparity was such that the study’s authors noted:

While a certain degree of age disparity between mothers and fathers is common in the United States, wide age gaps between young teenage mothers and older fathers merits some concern. One in five mothers aged 15-17 have a partner six or more years older. This type of age difference suggests, at the least, very different levels of life experience and power, and brings into question issues of pressure and abuse.

[David J. Landry and Jacqueline Darroch Forrest, “How Old Are U.S. Fathers?” Family Planning Perspectives, vol. 27, no. 4 (July/August 1995)].

Obviously, many of these males are vulnerable to statutory rape charges, a strong incentive to pressure the much younger girl to agree to obtain an abortion without revealing the pregnancy to the parents. Currently, such a male often can evade parental consent requirements by transporting his victim across state lines, but under the Child Custody Protection Act, this would compound rather than reduce the male’s legal risk. While we are unaware of statistical data on the incidence of interstate transportation by the impregnating males, it is noteworthy that 58 percent of the time it is the girl’s boyfriend who accompanies a girl for an abortion, when her parents have not been told about her pregnancy.
[Stanley Henshaw and Kathryn Kost, “Parental Involvement in Minors’ Abortion Decisions,” Family Planning Perspectives, vol. 24, no. 5 (September/October 1992)].

The Federal Role in Protecting Minors From Interstate Transportation to Circumvent State Parental Involvement Laws

Currently, at least 20 states have in effect laws that require parental or judicial involvement in the abortion decision of a minor. The Child Custody Protection Act would invoke federal authority to curb the interstate circumvention of these laws.

In the past, the federal government has exercised its interstate commerce authority to prohibit other interstate activity that it deemed harmful to minors and their families. For example, in 1910, Congress used its constitutional authority under the Commerce Clause to prohibit the interstate transportation of women or minors for purposes of “prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose” (commonly referred to as the Mann Act). The Supreme Court upheld the enactment of this law as a constitutional exercise of Congress’ power over transportation among the several states. Moreover, the Court reasoned that if men and women employ interstate transportation to facilitate a wrong, then their right to interstate travel can be restricted.
[Hoke v. United States, 227 U.S. 308 (1913)].

With respect to state laws requiring parental or judicial involvement in minors’ abortion decisions, federal legislation is warranted because of the acknowledged scope of the practice, and because of the profound physical and psychological risks of an abortion to a minor. As the Supreme Court has observed, “[t]he medical, emotional, and psychological consequences of an abortion are serious and can be lasting; this is particularly so when the patient is immature.”
[H.L. v. Matheson, 450 U.S. 398, 411 (1981).]

Pro-abortion groups oppose this legislation and echo the arguments made by the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy — namely that Supreme Court precedents on abortion give adults the right to take minors across state lines, without parental knowledge or consent, in order to procure abortions. But, clearly, the opportunity for a minor to obtain an abortion should not be elevated to a “special” right that supersedes parental custody over a minor daughter. The taking of a minor by a non-custodial adult on a trip out-of-state for a serious medical procedure without her parent’s knowledge or consent in avoidance of state law does not become permissible just because the procedure performed is an abortion.

The taking of an underage girl out of state for an abortion by someone who may have no knowledge of her prior medical or psychological history poses many dangers which could be avoided through involvement of her parents. For instance, a parent would be able to alert the abortionist of any known allergies to medication, be able to provide pertinent information from her prior medical or psychological history, and be able to provide the names of, and authorization for the release of pertinent data from, other family physicians.

Moreover, in light of the dangers involved with the abortion procedure itself, the fact that an adult would take a minor out of state for such a procedure, behind the custodial parent’s back, is particularly outrageous. Hemorrhaging, perforation or ripping of the uterus, anesthesia complications, and even death are all known risks of abortion procedures.

Once the girl returns home, she may suffer physical complications from the abortion. If the parents are aware that their daughter has had an abortion, their knowledge may prove key to ensuring that the young girl receives treatment in a timely fashion with the onset of symptoms. But if the parents remain ignorant of the abortion, they are unable to provide the benefit of their knowledge and expertise to their young daughter as complications develop — even in the post-abortion stage.

Unlike an abortion clinic counselor or another adult, who may have only a transitory role in the minor’s life, it is the parents who play a permanent role and who are best able to fully attend to the child’s well-being even beyond the abortion.

The long-term physical consequences of an abortion are well known, including, as the Supreme Court has recognized, that “[a]bortion is associated with an increased risk of complication in subsequent pregnancies.” [H.L. v. Matheson, 450 U.S. 398, 411 n.20 (1981).] The aftereffects of this abortion decision may remain with the adolescent for the rest of her life. That is all the more reason that her parent’s right to be involved should not be usurped by another adult surreptitiously taking her out of state.

Young adolescent girls are particularly at risk of certain detrimental medical consequences from an abortion. For instance, there is a greater risk of cervical injury associated with suction-curettage abortions (at 12 weeks’ gestation or earlier) performed on girls 17 or younger. [Willard Cates, Jr., M.D., M.P.H., Kenneth F. Schulz, M.B.A., and David A. Grimes, M.D., “The Risks Associated With Teenage Abortion,” The New England Journal of Medicine,” vol. 309, no. 11 (September 15, 1983): pp. 621-624.] Cervical injury is of serious concern because it may predispose the young girl to adverse outcomes in future pregnancies. Girls 17 or younger also face a two and a half times greater risk of acquiring endometritis following an abortion than do women 20-29 years old. [Burkman et al., “Morbidity Risk Among Young Adolescents Undergoing Elective Abortion,”Contraception, vol. 30 (1984): pp. 99-105.]

Dr. Bruce A. Lucero, an abortionist who performed some 45,000 abortions over the course of his 15 years of practice, came out in support of the Child Custody Protection Act in 1998. In an op ed that appeared in The New York Times, Dr. Lucero wrote about his own experience with young girls who seek abortions: “In almost all cases, the only reason that a teen-age girl doesn’t want to tell her parents about her pregnancy is that she feels ashamed and doesn’t want to let her parents down.” But, Dr. Lucero wrote, “parents are usually the ones who can best help their teen-ager consider her options. And whatever the girl’s decision, parents can provide the necessary emotional support and financial assistance.” Dr. Lucero also cited medical reasons for supporting the CCPA: “[P]atients who receive abortions at out-of-state clinics frequently do not return for follow-up care, which can lead to dangerous complications. And a teen-ager who has an abortion across state lines without her parents’ knowledge is even more unlikely to tell them that she is having complications.”
(Bruce A. Lucero, M.D., “Parental Guidance Needed,” The New York Times, July 12, 1998.)

Opponents’ Attempts to Gut the CCPA

Opponents of the Child Custody Protection Act insist that adult sexual partners, aunts, mothers-in-law, and strangers have a “constitutional right” to take minor girls across state lines for secret abortions. Some also argue that the bill is unconstitutional because it applies even if someone believes that an abortion is advisable for a girl’s “health.”

The argument for a “health” exception is without merit. The bill merely prohibits circumvention of the state parental involvement laws that are already in effect, which have been written to comply with detailed Supreme Court doctrine. Moreover, it is the parents or legal guardians — not boyfriends, strangers, or meddling in-laws — who are generally best able to weigh the risks of various courses of action in light of their often-unique knowledge of the girl’s medical history, psychological makeup, and other crucial factors.

Opponents of the CCPA also argue that the bill should be amended to exempt numerous individuals from its scope. The list of family members who it is argued deserve exemption from the bill has gone so far as to include first cousins. [See proposed amendment to the CCPA, H.R. Rep. No. 105-605, 105th Cong., 2d Sess., at 23 (1998).] Such amendments would gut the purpose of the bill by allowing noncustodial relatives — such as first cousins — to take a minor girl across state lines for a secret abortion, without a parent’s knowledge or consent.

 The Clinton-Gore Administration

The Clinton-Gore Administration has been among those demanding that exemptions be added to the bill. Some press reports have erroneously reported that the Clinton administration supports the “concept” of the legislation. In fact, the White House has threatened to veto the bill unless it is radically revised in a fashion that would actually legitimate and codify the circumvention of state parental consent laws — the very practice that the bill is intended to curb.

For example, on June 17, White House Chief of Staff Erskine B. Bowles issued a letter saying that the Clinton Administration “strongly opposes the bill” in its current form. The letter demanded, among other changes, that the bill be amended to give “close family members” such as “grandmothers, aunts, and . . . siblings” the same rights as parents. Apparently President Clinton believes that a mother-in-law or aunt should be able to take a child to a different state for a secret abortion, while the parent is kept in the dark.

It is regrettable that the Clinton administration does not recognize, at the very least, the important physical and emotional health consequences that are at stake for minor girls when they are secreted across state lines for abortions. But this is not surprising in light of comments made by a top-ranking U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) official at a November, 1997 conference. During a discussion of the welfare reform’s bonus funds — funds that states might receive if they reduced their out-of-wedlock birth rates as well as abortion rates –Thomas Kring, then acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs (DASPA) at HHS, said:

“If I were in charge, I would provide limousine service for anybody [pregnant teens] that lived within 50 miles of the border to go across the state line to have an abortion so it would be paid for by another — counted by another state.”

Kring is now director of the Office of Population Affairs in HHS.