ACLU Letter to the House of Representatives Urging Opposition to the Teen Endangerment Act (H.R. 748)

April 26, 2005

Oppose The Teen Endangerment Act (H.R. 748)

Dear Representative:

The American Civil Liberties Union strongly urges you to oppose The Teen Endangerment Act (H.R. 748), called by its sponsors the ""The Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act,"" when it is considered on the House floor tomorrow.

H.R. 748 imposes a mandatory parental notification requirement and waiting period on a young woman who needs abortion services in a state where she does not reside, even if neither her state of residence nor the state where she seeks an abortion has enacted a parental notification law. Moreover, the bill creates two new federal crimes. First, it forces doctors, under the threat of federal criminal prosecution, to comply with an onerous legal scheme mandating that an out-of-state teen's parents be notified of her decision to have an abortion. Second, H.R. 748 would make it a federal crime for a person other than a parent -- including a grandmother, aunt, sibling, or clergy member -- to help a teen cross certain state lines for an abortion unless the teen had already fulfilled the requirements of her home state's law restricting teens' abortions.

H.R. 748 unconstitutionally and unconscionably endangers teens' health. In clear violation of Supreme Court precedent, it does not contain any exception whatsoever for when an abortion is necessary to protect a young woman's health. It thus bars a teen from obtaining a medically necessary abortion unless she is able to comply with the bill's tangled requirements. Moreover, H.R. 748 robs parents of their ability to authorize immediate care for their daughter in an emergency situation: the bill requires a 24-hour waiting period and written notification to a parent, with no medical emergency exception, even if a parent accompanies his or her daughter to an out of-state abortion provider and consents to the abortion services.

Mandating parental notification will not create good family communication where it does not already exist, and could have dangerous consequences for a young woman already caught in a dangerous family situation. Though most young women can and do involve a parent in the decision to have an abortion, those who choose not to have valid reasons for not doing so: one-third of young women do not involve a parent because they fear family violence (in many cases because it has already occurred), or are afraid of being forced to leave home. This fear is not unfounded, as long-term studies of abusive and dysfunctional families reveal that the incidence of violence escalates when a wife or teenage daughter becomes pregnant. The abuse exception in the bill is inadequate to address these situations.

H.R. 748 also imposes unconstitutionally burdensome and impossibly complex requirements on both young women and doctors. The bill requires teens to navigate a patchwork system of parental notification mandates. In some circumstances, a teen must comply with two states' abortion restrictions; in others, the most vulnerable teens are left without even the option of going to court to obtain permission from a judge. Similarly, H.R. 748 requires doctors, under the threat of civil and criminal penalties, to decipher the bill's Byzantine requirements and make ""reasonable"" efforts to provide in-person, written notice to an out-of-state teen's parents. This federal in-person notification requirement is more onerous than even the most stringent state laws, and places impossible demands on doctors: doctors would need to become experts on every state's parental notification requirements, and could routinely be forced to travel hundreds of miles out of state in order to comply with the bill's in-person notification mandate.

By imposing federal criminal penalties on any non-parent who helps a young woman cross certain state lines to obtain an abortion, this legislation would criminalize caring, responsible behavior on the part of adults concerned with a young woman's well being. And, because the bill does not contain a health exception, it would deter trustworthy adults and professionals from helping a young woman to obtain an out-of-state abortion even if the young woman's health would be harmed if medical care were delayed.

H.R. 748 also contravenes principles of federalism fundamental to the American constitutional system. By saddling a young woman with her home state's law, this bill treats a young woman who travels to a state, or who resides in a state temporarily (such as a college student), differently than a minor living in that state. H.R. 748 thus discriminates against teenagers within the same state and deprives teens of their right to travel to engage in conduct legal in another state. Moreover, H.R. 748 violates the sovereignty of those states that have invalidated, rejected, or chosen not to enact parental involvement laws by imposing a federal notification requirement on certain (but not all) minors in that state.

The ACLU urges you to oppose H.R. 748. It is a dangerous threat to young women's health and an unconstitutional attack on reproductive freedom

Sincerely,

Laura W. Murphy
Director

Gregory T. Nojeim
Associate Director and Chief Legislative Counsel

 

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