Sunday, April 24, 2005

FROM THE RAW STORY we learn of a bill that would make it a crime for anyone other than a parent to take a girl seeking an abortion from a state with parental notification requirements to a state where parental notification is not required. The bill also mandates a 24-hour waiting period and written notification from the abortion provider to the parent, even if it's the parent who is accompanying the girl to get the abortion. This legislation, which is aptly and accurately called the "Teen Endangerment Act" (H.R. 748), and which is referred to as the "Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act" by the American mullahs who support it, has been approved by the House Judiciary Committee. It now goes to the full House, which is expected to approve it.

The bill is being opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union and by women's rights and pro-choice organizations (of course). Also, 14 House Democrats have written a letter of dissent that will be attached to the legislation upon its entry into the House.

No surprise, the groups supporting this legislation (like Focus on the Family, among others) say the legislation is a response to "activist judges" who try to sabotage parental notification laws in states that have them. The mantra of the religious right is that the Teen Endangerment Act supports the rights of parents, upholds families, and protects the health and well-being of pregnant girls.

That is a bunch of unvarnished horseshit. First of all, the restrictions and requirements of this proposed law, as well as the punishments for violating them, include no exception for the health of the girl. In other words, it is a crime punishable by heavy fines, a year in prison, or both, for anyone in a girl's life -- older sibling, aunt or uncle, grandparent, minister or rabbi, best friend -- to help a girl get an abortion in another state: even if the girl's health or life is in danger; even if the girl's family is abusive or nonfunctional and the friend or relative is trying to save the girl's life. Even if it's the girl's own parent who is taking her across state lines, that parent is subject to criminal sanction if she or he does not follow the rules in the law: waiting 24 hours and not proceeding without notification by the physician.

That is not only heedless of the girl's health; it's also totally anti-family! How dare the government tell a parent or another family member how to care for their own child or close relative? What business does the government have interfering in family relationships? NO business!

There is more, so much more, that is wrong with this legislation. It presumes to come between a doctor and her patient, second-guessing medical judgments and putting roadblocks in the path of a physician whose job it is to protect and preserve a patient's health. It's anti-medicine and anti-doctor.

And, once again -- where have we heard this before? -- it violates the principle of federalism that is a fundamental part of what this country is about. There are 27 states in the United States of America that either have NO parental notification laws, or have more lenient parental notification laws. This proposed legislation, if passed, would impose the laws of states that have parental notification laws on states that don't, forcing some states to abide by the laws of others. And the bill violates what is arguably the most essential right individuals can have in a country built on republican (small r) or federalist principles: the right to travel freely from any state to any other state without restriction in order to get a lifestyle, a service, a job, or a legal environment; or to fill or satisfy any tangible or intangible need the individual might have that cannot be met, filled, or satisfied where they are.

Supporters of this bill say it "will help spark communication among girls and their parents." That is such blathering nonsense. It will do precisely the opposite. Communication is "sparked" by love and trust, not by legal requirements and threats of imprisonment and fines. How is communication between girls and their parents going to be facilitated by a law that makes it a crime for a girl to cross state lines in an effort to get an abortion without notifying her parents when the pregnancy was caused by her own father raping her? How is communication sparked in a family where a girl knows, or has excellent reason to believe, that she will be brutally beaten, or called a cunt and a whore and a bitch, or kicked out of the house, if she obeys the law that says she has to notify her parents before her aunt or her grandmother can take her to another state to get an abortion?

These are exactly the kind of horrors that could and do happen, and for which this legislation makes no allowance. From the letter of dissent signed by 14 House Democrats:

Some young women justifiably fear that they would be physically abused if forced to disclose their pregnancy to their parents. Nearly one-third of minors who choose not to consult with their parents have experienced violence in their family, feared violence, or feared being forced to leave home. Enacting this legislation and forcing young women in these circumstances to notify their parents of their pregnancies will only exacerbate the dangerous cycle of violence in dysfunctional families. This is the lesson of Spring Adams, an Idaho teenager who was shot to death by her father after he learned she was planning to terminate a pregnancy caused by his acts of incest. It is clear that when a young woman believes that she cannot involve her parents in her decision to terminate a pregnancy, the law cannot mandate healthy, open family communication.

We are well aware of proponents' claims that the travel provision would protect the rights of minors who cannot obtain parental consent because they have the option to appear before judges and obtain a judicial bypass for any parental involvement laws. While bypasses may have some theoretical benefits, in many cases it is difficult if not impossible for troubled young women to obtain them. Some teenagers live in regions where the local judges consistently refuse to grant bypasses, regardless of the facts involved. For example, one study found that a number of judges in Massachusetts either refuse to handle abortion petitions or focus inappropriately on the morality of abortion. Other young women may live in small communities where the judge may be a friend of the parents, a family member, or even the parent of a friend. Still others may live in regions where the relevant courts are not open in the evenings or on weekends, when minors could seek a bypass without missing school or arousing suspicion.

The difficulties in obtaining a judicial bypass were clearly illustrated by Ms. Billie Lominick during her testimony before the Subcommittee on the Constitution. Ms. Lominick was a 63-year old grandmother who helped a pregnant minor from a physically and sexually abusive household cross state lines to obtain an abortion. Ms. Lominick testified that her assistance was essential because the minor was unable to find any judge in her home state of South Carolina who would hear her judicial bypass petition.
With respect to the Federal Notification Provision, the section requires a 24-hour or more waiting period and written notification, with no medical emergency exception, even if a parent accompanies his or her daughter to an out-of-state physician and consents to the abortion services. In such cases, this requirement acts as a built-in mandatory delay, imposing logistical and financial hardships on functional families who are trying to support their daughters. Even in a health emergency, this bill robs a parent of his or her ability to authorize immediate care. For example, if a parent and daughter were vacationing together in California and the parent brought her daughter to a hospital for emergency abortion services, this provision would needlessly require a doctor to wait 24 hours before providing that care.

We would also observe that the Federal Notification Provision’s very limited exceptions provide no safety net for the most vulnerable teens. For example, the section’s “exception” for teen victims of certain forms of abuse only applies if the young woman “declares in a signed written statement that she is the victim of abuse.” This “exception” ignores the painful reality that most abused teens are too afraid to tell anyone that they are being abused. Moreover, because the bill requires the doctor to notify the authorities of the abuse before the abortion is performed, many teens will not report the abuse for fear that their parents will discover the abuse report. As Justice O’Connor aptly stated in Hodgson v. Minnesota, an “exception to notification for minors who are victims of neglect or abuse is, in reality, a means of notifying the parents.” Moreover, “[t]he combination of the abused minor’s reluctance to report sexual or physical abuse . . . with the likelihood that invoking the abuse exception for the purpose of avoiding notice will result in notice, makes the abuse exception less than effectual.”
The bill also illogically sanctions the criminal activity of a parent by authorizing lawsuits to be brought by parents suffering “legal harm” against any person assisting a minor in obtaining an abortion across state lines. The private civil remedy aspect of both the Travel and Federal Notification Provisions are so broad that even a father who committed rape or incest against his own daughter would be empowered to bring a lawsuit seeking compensation under the legislation. If the pregnancy of the minor is a result of incest with her father, the minor must still comply with any parental consent or notification law in the state of her residence under this bill unless she signs a written statement and agrees to allow the physician to notify the authorities about the sexual abuse. If the minor decides not to sign a written statement or notify the authorities and is accompanied by her grandmother across state lines to a doctor in another state for abortion services, the father who committed the incest can bring a civil action against the grandmother and the doctor, effectively profiting from his own criminal wrongdoing.

The absurdities in this law go beyond anything even Samuel Beckett or Franz Kafka could devise.

Likewise, the Federal Notification Provision also imposes complex and absurd requirements for physicians and their patients. As noted above, section 2432 would require that the physician give 24 hours “actual notice” to a parent before performing an abortion on a minor from out-of-state. This provision would apply even if the minor came from a state that did not have a parental consent or notification law, and even if the parent went to the other state fully intending and approving of his or her child’s abortion. [Emphasis added.] The section defines “actual notice” as “the giving of a written notice directly, in person.” This section would seem to require that the physician or a member of her staff travel out-of-state to visit the parents of the patient in person. The section would allow for the physician to give “constructive notice” to the patient’s parents if it is not possible to provide them with “actual notice” after the physician has made a “reasonable effort” to do so. The section defines “constructive notice” as notice that is given by certified mail, to the last known address of the person being notified with delivery deemed to have occurred 48 hours following noon” on the day after the mailing occurred. The section does not define “reasonable effort.”

Past versions of this proposed law have been passed by the House, so if this bill is going to be defeated, it's going to take the best efforts of every person who cares about the health and safety of teenage girls, the integrity and autonomy of families, the right of everyone in this country to freedom of movement, and the right of doctors to make medical decisions in consultation with their patients without fear of government sanction. Just as an aside, it's quite revealing that the Republican leadership supports making it harder for individuals to file medical malpractice suits against doctors who do actual harm; but oppose the right of doctors to make medical judgments in partnership with their patient on whether to perform a legal medical procedure.

A pro-teen endangerment site run by Focus on the Family urges its readers to "contact your House members and ask them to do their part to make sure the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act (H.R. 748) becomes law." Surely those of us who actually care about children can do no less to insist that our legislators make sure this very bad bill does NOT become law. At the end of this article, readers are instructed to "see the CitizenLink Action Center" for "help in contacting your lawmakers." The CitizenLink Action Center is set up to help right-wingers lobby their representatives on abortion, public prayer, anti-gay measures, and so on. (I didn't realize this until I clicked on the "Issues and Legislation" tab.) So let's us use their "Action Center" to find our lawmakers to defeat their repressive, oppressive, hateful legislation.

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