WASHINGTON – After an easy House victory, the latest push to curb abortions moves to the Senate where Republican gains increase the likelihood of making it harder for minors to cross state lines to end pregnancies without telling a parent.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (search), R-Tenn., intends to bring such a bill to a vote this summer as one of his top 10 legislative priorities, according to spokeswoman Amy Call.
If enacted, it would be the fifth law passed to reduce abortions since President Bush (search) took office in 2001.
No one knows how many minors cross state lines for abortions to circumvent laws in their home states requiring parental consent. But like many who oppose abortion rights, Frist told reporters this week that that there's more at stake than the number of abortions prevented.
"No matter how few people it affects, it's an important bill on the principles," said Frist, a Tennessee Republican and doctor who is considering seeking his party's presidential nomination in 2008.
Abortion rights advocates say the bill would cut off an escape route for pregnant girls and make criminals of the relatives, friends and doctors who try to help them.
"It certainly reflects a lack of compassion toward teens and in particular to their health," said Louise Melling of the American Civil Liberties Union (search). "It reflects a willingness of Congress to override or trump states' policy decisions."
The Senate is to consider a bill very similar to the measure approved by the House 270-157 Wednesday. The Senate bill would make it a federal crime punishable by a fine, jail time or both for an adult to take a minor across state lines to obtain an abortion in contravention of state parental notification requirements.
The Senate never has taken up the bill. This year, the measure got a friendlier reception there when Frist named it one of his top legislative priorities, reflecting the four seats Republicans gained in the November elections.
They now hold a 55-44 majority over Democrats in that chamber. Sen. James Jeffords (search) of Vermont is the chamber's only Independent and usually votes with the Democrats.
Reflecting rising public support for requiring parents be involved in the decisions of their pregnant daughters, the House bill would impose fines, jail time or both on adult confidants who accompany minors across state lines to circumvent parental notification or consent laws. More than 30 states have enacted such laws.
It also would penalize doctors who perform the procedure under such conditions. And in states without parental notification laws, the House bill would require abortion providers to notify a parent.
The House rejected two Democratic amendments that would have added immunity from prosecution and civil suits for confidants of the minor who help transport her — such as grandparents and clergy — and for others involved in the violation, such as taxicab and bus drivers.
The House and Senate versions provide certain exceptions, such as when the abortion would save the life of the mother.
Four bills aimed at reducing the number of abortion have been enacted since Bush won the White House in 2001:
Last year, Congress made it a separate crime to harm a fetus during an assault on a pregnant woman.
Another law last year denied federal funds to state and local agencies that act against health care providers and insurers because they don't provide or pay for abortions.
In 2003, it outlawed a procedure — generally carried out in the second or third trimester — in which a fetus is partially delivered before being aborted.
In 2002, lawmakers amended the legal definitions for person, human being, child and individual to include any fetus that survives an abortion procedure.
Separately, Senate abortion opponents last month defeated Democratic amendments to a bankruptcy bill that would have restricted the ability of abortion clinic protesters to file for bankruptcy when confronted with large court fines or damages.