WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans sought Friday to draw the curtain on the legislative year with a vote on legislation they hope their supporters remember on Election Day — a bill to outlaw taking minors over state lines for secret abortions.
Vote counters of both parties expected the bill to fail, but passage wasn't the point for Republicans defending their majority. The abortion restriction, like the failed efforts to ban gay marriage and flag desecration, is a gesture of good faith from GOP candidates hoping to energize their most loyal supporters.
The bill would make it a federal crime for anyone other than a parent to take a child to another state for an abortion in an effort to circumvent state parental involvement laws.
Republican supporters said the House's 264-153 vote Tuesday confirmed public sentiment that parental involvement superseded a minor's right to have an abortion. Democratic opponents warned that such a policy would cut off an escape route for girls with abusive parents and make criminals of well-meaning family members, clergy and doctors.
The Senate passed a similar measure 65-34 in July but will vote on the House legislation because Senate Democrats, led by Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin of Illinois and Barbara Boxer of California, used a procedural move to block reconciliation of the two versions.
The legislation would make 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.
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.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said he hoped "that the Senate will look at this modified bill in prayerful reflection and send it on to the president."
With no other options, the end of session hours away and the Nov. 7 elections looming, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist this week agreed.
The vote alone was aimed at giving Republicans a shot at political redemption after a year that began and ended without Congress passing some major items on the agendas of social conservatives.
Republican leaders scheduled votes on some of those items, such as bans on gay marriage and flag desecration. But the marriage and flag amendments failed. Later in the year with support from Frist, a bill to fund new embryonic stem cell research passed both houses and forced Bush to cast the only veto of his presidency.