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Subcommittee Reexamines Abortion Parental Consent

The House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution held a hearing on a bill (H.R. 476) that would prohibit the transportation of a minor across state lines to obtain an abortion and thereby evade parental consent laws. Subcommittee Chair Steve Chabot (R-OH) opened the hearing stating that minors who have had abortions face important physical and emotional health consequences and H.R. 476 would allow parents to help their daughters deal with those consequences.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) questioned the need for the hearing, asking “Why are we wasting our time, three years in a row?” Similar measures (H.R. 3682 and H.R. 1218) have passed the House in recent years but failed to come to a final vote in the Senate.

Under the bill, sponsored by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), any individual who knowingly transports a minor across state lines to obtain an abortion, and circumvents the state’s parental consent laws, would be subject to a fine or one year in jail. H.R. 476 also would allow individuals charged with the crime to use as an affirmative defense that they “reasonably believed, based on information…obtained directly from a parent of the individual or other compelling facts” that they had complied with a state’s parental consent law.

Members of the subcommittee heard emotional testimony from Eileen Roberts of Mothers Against Minors’ Abortions. According to Ms. Roberts, her daughter, at age 14, underwent an abortion without parental consent and suffered complications as a result of the abortion. “By passing the Child Custody Protection Act, parental notification and consent laws will be secured and I can say with confidence that our young adolescent daughters will be protected and family dignity will be restored.”

The Reverend Doctor Katherine Hancock Ragsdale testified on behalf of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. Rev. Ragsdale highlighted the fact that “presumably we all want the same things…fewer unplanned pregnancies…and young people who face problems…to receive loving support and counsel from responsible adults.” However, she noted that the bill “doesn’t help to achieve those goals.” It does not “protect children that cannot trust their parents.” Rev. Ragsdale touched on her own personal experience in helping a 15-year-old girl obtain an abortion, because the young girl was unable to turn to her parents for support.

Another witness, Teresa Stanton Collett, Professor of Law at South Texas College of Law, said the Child Custody Protection Act “will significantly advance the legitimate health and safety interests of young girls experiencing an unplanned pregnancy.” According to Ms. Collett, medical care for minors seeking abortions is improved by parental involvement because parental consent laws allow parents to assist their daughters in the selection of a healthcare provider, ensure that parents have the opportunity to provide additional medical history and information to abortion providers prior to performance of the abortion, and ensure that parents have adequate knowledge to recognize and respond to any post-abortion complications that may develop. Addressing congressional authority to legislate movement between states, or interstate commerce, one legal scholar told the subcommittee that Congress does indeed have such authority under the commerce clause. “Commerce as that term is used in the Constitution, includes travel whether or not that travel is for reasons of business. To transport another person across state lines is to engage in commerce among the States,” argued John H. Harrison of the University of Virginia.

However, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) questioned his conclusion, asking whether or not this authority would still apply to a minor who drives herself across state lines to obtain an abortion. He noted that H.R. 476 does not address the legal consequences that a minor in this situation could face.

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