WASHINGTON – Accompanying a minor across a state line to obtain an abortion and avoid parental notification in the girl's home state would become a federal crime under a bill the House passed Tuesday.
Republican supporters said the 264-153 vote confirmed public sentiment that parental involvement superceded a minor's right to have an abortion. Democratic opponents foresaw the arrests of grandmothers and religious counselors trying to shield girls from abusive parents.
Chances are slim that the House and the Senate, which approved a more limited version of the bill in July, will devise a compromise they can send to the president before the end of this session of Congress.
But the House vote gives House conservatives something to showcase when they return home next week to campaign for the midterm elections. The interstate abortion bill, long a priority of anti-abortion groups, joined limits on stem cell research among the top items on conservative agendas this year.
The House on Tuesday passed another bill on that agenda, a measure aimed at discouraging lawsuits against local, state and federal governments over issues involving separation of church and state.
The abortion bill, and a similar measure passed by the Senate in July, make it a federal crime to take a pregnant girl across state lines for an abortion without her parent's knowledge.
"It protects minors from exploitation from the abortion industry, it promotes strong family ties and it helps foster respect for state laws," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. Bill supporters argued that it made no sense that minors who need parental permission to get an aspirin at school or go on field trips can get an abortion without telling their parents.
The House bill also makes it a crime if the abortion provider in the second state fails to give one of the minor's parents, or a legal guardian, 24 hours notice before an abortion is performed.
The person transporting the minor across state lines, or the doctor who fails to provide notification, would be subject to a $100,000 fine or one year in jail or both. About half the states have some kind of parental involvement law.
"Not since the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 have we used the powers of the federal government to enforce the laws of one state on the territory of another," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., a leading opponent.
The House has passed interstate abortion bills four times since 1998, and could have sent a bill to the president by approving the Senate-passed version. But House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said the Senate bill "has loopholes wide enough to drive a 16-wheeler through."
He said the House was pressing its version again "in the hopes that the Senate will look at this modified bill in prayerful reflection and send it on to the president."
The House bill taken up Tuesday does contain Senate language preventing a parent who has committed incest from being able to sue and obtain money damages from someone who might transport a minor across state lines for an abortion. It also encompasses cases in which a minor is taken to a foreign nation or an Indian reservation for an abortion.
Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said the bill "does nothing to protect young people or promote communication between teens and their parents."
She said that with only 13 percent of U.S. counties having an abortion provider, many young women must travel to neighboring states for an abortion. The bill also has no exception for teens who turn to another responsible adult because of violence at home, or situations of rape or incest, she said.