July 25, 2006

Senate debates curb on minors’ travel for abortion

By Joanne Kenen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - After years of holding off a vote on
an abortion bill repeatedly passed by the House, the U.S.
Senate on Tuesday prepared to pass a bill making it a crime to
transport a minor across state lines for an abortion to skirt
parental notification rules.

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed similar
legislation at least four times, but opponents had always been
able to maneuver to keep it from a vote in the Senate.

But the Senate has had a stronger anti-abortion rights
contingent since the 2004 elections and Republicans pushed to
bring up the bill before November's congressional elections.
Polls have found parental notification laws are popular with

Many states require parental notification or parental
consent before an under-age girl can get an abortion. This
measure, strongly backed by the White House, would make it a
crime for anyone to help a pregnant minor cross state lines to
circumvent those rules.

Backers of the legislation often note that a minor cannot
get an aspirin from a school nurse without parental consent so
girls shouldn't be able to get an abortion without it.

They also say the bill would protect young girls from older
male predators who impregnate them and then push for a secret
abortion to cover up their actions.

Democrats led by Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, both
of New Jersey, tried to add an amendment to expand sex
education including both abstinence and contraception to reduce
teen pregnancies. It was defeated by a 48-51 vote.

Lautenberg said passing the teen travel ban bill without
addressing teen pregnancy shows the vote is a "political
charade," not an attempt to reduce abortions.

But Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, a physician who
delivers babies, said anything but abstinence gives a mixed
message that would be harmful to young people.

"I would tell you the best medical advice we could give our
young men and women ... is to stay abstinent until you are in a
married relationship," Coburn said.

The Senate plans to consider other amendments, including
one that would allow a grandmother or member of the clergy to
accompany a girl seeking an abortion, before final passage of
the bill expected on Tuesday evening.

The National Right to Life Committee strongly supports the
legislation, called the Child Custody Protection Act, saying
circumvention of state notification laws is "widespread."

"Indeed, many abortion clinics advertise across state
lines, using 'no parental notification' as a selling point,"
the group said.

But many pro-abortion rights groups said the bill could be
damaging to young women and they dubbed it the "Teen
Endangerment Act." The American Civil Liberties Union said the
bill could "restrict a young woman's ability to obtain an
abortion outside her home state even in a medical emergency."