By MARGARET TALEV
April 27, 2005
Republican leaders controlling both chambers of Congress are determined to close that loophole, beginning Wednesday when the full House is expected to consider and pass the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act. The House has approved parental notification legislation three times in recent years, only to find it blocked in the Senate. But some anti-abortion activists see better prospects this year.
Republicans now control 55 of the Senate's 100 seats, and all but a handful support more abortion limits. They have a president in office that would sign such a measure into law. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has made a parental notification measure, albeit a less dramatic version than the one before the House, one of his top 10 priorities for the year. Frist positioned the legislation so that he can bring it before the full Senate without going through the Judiciary Committee, whose chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., supports abortion rights.
After losing the presidential race and more seats in Congress last year, some Democrats, meanwhile, have advocated moderating the party's pro-choice image. Congress banned so-called partial birth abortions two years ago. And polls show voters support parental notification laws in principle.
Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, who replaced former Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota as the Senate Democratic leader after Daschle lost re-election last year, personally opposes abortion and supported parental notification legislation when the Senate last considered it, in 1998, according to his staff. A final vote that year never took place.
Reid had not signed on to the measure as of Tuesday and it was unclear whether he would. He is promoting legislation to expand access to contraceptives, and anti-abortion advocates have said they are not counting on his vote at this point. They may not need it.
"We expect a tough fight in the Senate but we're cautiously optimistic," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee. "In some cases, senators who were listening too much to the abortion lobby aren't with us anymore, like Senator Daschle."
Kate Michelman, president emeritus of NARAL Pro-Choice America and a Democratic strategist, acknowledged the gravity of that threat.
"I am worried," she said. "I think there is concern that post-election, some Democrats, not all, are worried about how to talk about this issue. We are outnumbered in the Senate and the House. The pro-choice people need to vote pro-choice."
As it now stands in the House, the legislation by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., would require doctors in a state without notification or consent laws to contact parents of a minor before perfuming an abortion for her, if she is a resident of another state. It also would make it a crime for anyone who is not the girl's parent or legal guardian to transport her across state lines as a means to evade notification or consent law.
The Senate version, the Child Custody Protection Act by Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., includes the provisions involving transporting a pregnant teen between states but not the provisions regarding doctors. But the Senate could vote on the House version or amend a similar provision to the Senate bill if leaders so choose.
Lanier Swann, director of governmental relations for Concerned Women For America, a group that opposes abortion, said neither the House nor the Senate measure on parental notification is radical.
"When you have a society where a child has to have a permission slip to take aspirin at school, it goes without saying parents should have direct and immediate say over their child seeking an abortion," she said.
Anti-abortion advocates note that 44 states have enacted laws involving some form of notification or involvement by adults in cases in which teens are seeking abortions. Of those, 34 remain in effect and 23 involve parental consent or notification. They say federal legislation would simply prevent teens from circumventing the intents in those states.
But NARAL, Planned Parenthood, the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the American Civil Liberties Union and other pro-choice groups say both measures would have a chilling effect on doctors, discourage teens from seeking advice from siblings, aunts or grandmothers when they feel they can't confide in parents, and could lead some teens to seek illegal abortions. They say the House version of the legislation does not provide exceptions when a teen's health is at risk.
They also note subtleties of the legislation: a 24-hour-waiting period, language that could include 18-year-olds as minors and provisions that require doctors to notify parents even if the teen in question has traveled from another state without notification requirements, such as California, New York or New Jersey.
"These are the things to me that really make it clear the proponents are about making it almost impossible for a minor to get an abortion _ it's not just about parental notification," said Jodie Curtis of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.