House Passes Bill to Override State Laws on Young Women's Access to Abortions

June 30, 1999 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union strongly criticized the House today for passing a bill that would make criminals out of family members who help a teenager travel to another state for an abortion.

“This bill would treat caring friends and family members like common criminals — even if a judge in the state the young woman travels to has granted permission for an abortion,” said Kathryn Engustian, a Legislative Counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.

The bill would make it a federal crime for most anyone — including a grandparent, trusted adult friend, or minister — to transport a minor across state lines for an abortion unless she has already complied with her home state’s parental consent or notification law. The bill was passed by a vote of 270-159; a drop of support from the last time the House voted on the measure in 1998.

Despite having heard testimony from a 64-year-old widow whose efforts to help a young woman travel to a neighboring state for an abortion could have resulted in imprisonment, the House Judiciary Committee passed the bill last week. In her testimony, the woman explained how she helped the teenager, who was a victim of abuse in her home and was unable to find a judge in her home state willing to hear her case. They then went to a neighboring state together, where they obtained a waiver from a judge and the young woman obtained an abortion.

“By threatening anyone who helps a young woman travel to another state for an abortion with arrest and imprisonment, this legislation would further discourage many young women – already frightened and isolated — from turning to someone they trust,” Engustian said.

Most young women involve their parents in deciding whether to have an abortion, the ACLU said. Those who do not are often the victims of incest or other family abuse.

According to an analysis prepared by the ACLU, the legislation also conflicts with core constitutional principles, reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in May in a landmark ruling, Saenz v. Roe. The ACLU analysis concludes that the bill denies states the power to enforce their laws within their own borders and unconstitutionally attaches the laws of a state to its residents no matter where in the nation they travel.

An ACLU analysis of the legislation can be found at:

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