WASHINGTON – The House passed a bill Wednesday that would make it illegal to dodge parental-consent laws by taking minors across state lines for abortions, the latest effort to chip away at abortion rights after Republican gains in the November elections.
By 270-157, the House sent the bill to the Senate, where the policy has new momentum as an item on the Republicans’ top-10 list of legislative priorities.
Reflecting rising public support for requiring parents’ involvement in their pregnant daughters’ decisions, the bill would impose fines, jail time or both on adults and doctors involved in most cases where minors were taken out of state to get abortions.
In a statement, President Bush praised the House for passing the measure. “The parents of pregnant minors can provide counsel, guidance and support to their children and should be involved in these decisions,” Bush said. “I urge the Senate to pass this important legislation and help continue to build a culture of life in America.”
This was the third time since 1998 the House has approved such a measure sponsored by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. The Senate has never taken it up and no vote has been set, but Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., expects to bring up a similar measure this summer, according to spokeswoman Amy Call.
In another sign of the measure’s new support, Democratic Rep. William Clay of Missouri, who staunchly favors abortion rights and voted against the measure in the past, voted for it on Wednesday. Clay said he switched in response to an outpouring of support for the bill from constituents in his St. Louis district.
“This bill simply says that a parent has a right to know if their child is having surgery,” Clay said.
Voting for it were 216 Republicans and 54 Democrats. Voting against it were 145 Democrats, 11 Republicans and 1 Independent.
If passed by the Senate and signed by the president, the policy would represent the fifth measure since Bush took office in 2001 aimed at reducing the number of abortions.
Tempers flared in the House even before the emotional floor debate.
Democrats complained that their efforts to soften the bill, for example, by exempting from prosecution adult siblings and grandparents who help pregnant minors, were described in the GOP-authored committee report as efforts to protect “sexual predators.”
Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who authored the panel’s report, defended its language, saying the Democratic amendments would not have specifically excluded child molesters from protections.
The bill defines a minor as anyone “not older than” 18. More than 30 states, including Idaho, have parental notification or consent laws.
The measure provides certain exceptions to a mandatory waiting period and punishments, such as when the abortion would save the life of the mother. Also excepted are any physicians presented with documentation showing that a court in the minor’s home state waived any parental-notification requirements. In addition, the bill makes an exception for minors who have signed a written statement saying that she is a victim of sexual abuse by a parent and can back it up with documentation of having reported that abuse to a state authority.