Wednesday, April 27, 2005

THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR has an article about the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act (CIANA).

The bill ... would make it a federal offense to transport a minor across state lines for an abortion in order to evade a parental notification law, unless she has obtained a waiver from a judge. The bill would also require a doctor to notify a minor's parent before performing an abortion, if that girl is a resident of another state. The second part also contains provisions that allow a minor to get around parental notification.

Take note of that second sentence. What it's saying is that a doctor would have to notify a girl's parents before performing an abortion, even if the girl's home state had no parental notification law. This is a clear violation both of the girl's rights under the laws of the state she resides in, and of the rights of states that do not have parental notification laws. They would be required to obey, within their own states, the laws of other states.

The bill goes to the heart of parental rights, an emotional issue particularly for social conservatives. Historically, the public has strongly supported parental involvement in decisions related to minors' abortions, as long as there is a judicial bypass procedure for girls in abusive families.

Who doesn't support parental involvement in their children's health decisions? But the issue is whether parental involvement can be mandated by the government. No law can force a girl to tell her parents she is pregnant, and no law can force a girl not to end a pregnancy on her own. What parental notification laws obviously can do is prevent a girl from getting a legal abortion. And only legal abortions. In other words, parental notification laws, and this new federal law, require parental notification for one medical procedure and one medical procedure only: abortion. The law is very specific about this. A doctor is required to notify a parent before performing an abortion. These laws say nothing about doctors being required to notify parents before performing a c-section on a pregnant teen; or, for that matter, before performing a standard vaginal delivery. No parental notification required by these laws before doctors can give a pregnant teenage girl an epidural. Nothing like that.

That's one reason why this new federal legislation, if it becomes law, will not pass constitutional muster. It violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Another reason is because of the lack of any provision for a girl's health.

...the bill contains no exception for circumstances when the health of the minor is endangered. The bill does discuss cases when a minor's life is endangered, but health is not addressed. Abortion foes object to health exceptions, saying they are used to cover emotional distress and could be employed for any abortion.

Yes, of course they could, and rightly so, duhhhh. Pregnancy is about a woman's health. Everything about pregnancy affects a woman's health. It's entirely appropriate that laws regulating abortion contain exceptions for health issues, and the National Right to Life Committee has no business unilaterally deciding that emotional distress is not a health issue. But that's the trouble with laws that tell a woman or a girl when she may and when she may not have an abortion. It puts the government in the position of making judgments about health issues. No one but a doctor should be allowed to decide which health issue in a pregnant woman might necessitate an abortion, and no one but the woman or girl involved should be allowed to decide whether she wants to deal with her health issue by having an abortion.

And then there is the issue of abuse. Teenage girls who are pregnant as the result of rape or incest are supposed to be protected by the judicial bypass process, but judicial bypass does not work as well as abortion opponents would have us believe.

What troubles Ms. Silverstein [Helena Silverstein, a political scientist at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., and author of a soon-to-be-published book on judicial bypasses]about the legislation is that it rests on the presumption that the judicial-bypass process works.

"The world is not anywhere close to ideal," she says. "There are instances where minors try to secure the right to a judicial bypass and fail. Some judges are not willing to grant a bypass, some refuse to preside. Sometimes court personnel are not aware there's a process and will turn a young woman away."

This is not a trivial issue. Girls who are pregnant as the result of incest or rape may not be the majority, but a number of studies suggest that there are more such cases than most people realize, especially among girls who become pregnant before the age of 15. And girls who are pregnant because they were raped by a relative (which is what incest is) are the very ones who are most likely to be affected by parental notification laws -- and obviously by the proposed federal law. Think about it: Which subset of pregnant teenage girls are most likely not to want to tell their parents they are pregnant? Which subset of pregnant teenage girls are most likely to try to get an abortion without telling their parents, even if they have to cross over into another state to do so?

If anyone reading this is still inclined to shrug off the devastating effect parental notification laws in general and the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act in particular will have on young girls who are pregnant as the result of rape or incest, read this, posted on Third Wave Agenda. The piece was written about a parental notification law being proposed in Texas, but the information is just as relevant to CIANA:

Parental consent laws are bad news -- and Molly Ivans gives more reasons why. Now, there's no question that teenagers benefit from adult guidance. But the fact is that the vast majority of teens speak to one or both parents about their options. The ones that don't typically have very good reasons why. And parental consent laws have not been effective in decreasing the abortion rate. Rather, they cause more second-trimester procedures, since some teens delay telling their parents until they absolutely have to. Ivans deals with a particularly tough Texas law, which not only requires parental notification, but consent. It also makes it much more difficult to get a judicial bypass. The most powerful part of the piece is where Ivans gives examples of the young women affected by this policy:

Please believe that you do not know what "dysfunctional family" means until you have studied applications for judicial bypass. These cases are from the files of Jane's Due Process, a Texas organization that provides lawyers for pregnant minors seeking a bypass.

Social worker for a 13-year-old: "She ran away from her foster home and was gone for eight weeks. Now she's in an emergency shelter and is pregnant. Her mother is deceased. Her father raped her when she was 8 years old and is still in prison for it. I knew her when she had to testify against him. I don't know if I can convince her to go back to court, but she definitely wants an abortion."

Boyfriend of a 15-year-old: "She can't report anything to the police about what her stepfather does to the family. He works for the department. And this is a very small town. The family seems to live in fear of him."

"My older sister got pregnant when she was 17. My mother pushed her against the wall, slapped her across the face and then grabbed her by the hair, pulled her through the living room, out the front door and threw her off the porch. We don't know where she is now." – pregnant 16-year-old.

"My little sister was raped. Our parents are somewhere in Mexico, but I don't know if I can find them." – older sister.

Grandmother of a 15-year-old: "She just told us that she was raped. We had no idea that she was pregnant. Her mother is dead, and her father is being transferred to (another prison). Is there any way we can get this done?"

Seventeen-year-old: "I called my older sister to see if she knew where my mother was. She hasn't heard from her in over six months. I've never known my father. So I went to the courthouse to file my application (for judicial bypass), and the judge came out of his office and told me that he would give me a hearing but that he didn't believe in abortion and that he would never give me the OK to have one. And he knows me. He knows my family. He already knows I'm raising a 5-month-old."

"My mother's boyfriend used to hit her and sometimes I would try to stop him, but then he'd start hitting me. I left home to live with my boyfriend when I found out I was pregnant the first time. My mother wouldn't let me have an abortion, so I knew a baby would be safer living away from her and her boyfriend. But my boyfriend started hitting me as soon as I moved in. So I got my own place, a car and two jobs. I'm pregnant again, but I can't tell my mom because she would stop me from getting an abortion." – 17-year-old high school graduate, mother of a 2-year-old daughter, father deceased.

I spare you the incest cases, except to note that it is much more common than any of us would like to believe and not limited to any economic class.
The Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act will endanger young girls' lives and will NOT encourage or promote communication within families. It must be defeated.

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