ACLU Warns Legislation Would Put Lives of Young Women at Risk, Urges Defeat of Teen Endangerment Act

July 20, 2004

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Media@dcaclu.org

WASHINGTON - The American Civil Liberties Union today renewed its objections to a controversial piece of legislation that would put the lives of young women at risk and threatens to turn caring adults into criminals. The bill was the subject of a hearing before a House Judiciary panel.

The Teen Endangerment Act (H.R. 1755), dubbed the "Child Custody Protection Act" by proponents would make it a federal crime for a person, other than a parent, to transport a minor across state lines for an abortion unless the minor had already fulfilled the requirements of her home state's parental involvement law. The bill saddles a young woman with the laws of her home state no matter where she travels in the nation.

"This bill puts the health and welfare of young women at risk," said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "At a time when they most need help, this measure would take away a critical form of support. Trusted adults coming to the aid of teenagers in crisis should not be made into criminals."

The ACLU said that if the bill were to become law, teenagers would be denied the counsel and support of trusted family members, religious counselors, or other adults when seeking an abortion out of state. The bill only allows parents to travel with their child; other family members, such as grandparents or aunts and uncles, would be subject to criminal prosecution.

The bill would have no effect on the number of pregnant teenagers who tell their parents about their decision to have an abortion, the ACLU said. Studies show that most teenagers voluntarily inform their parents of their decision and that those that do not are often unable to do so due to tragic circumstances such as incest or domestic violence.

Proponents of the bill have also argued that the "judicial bypass" option in state parental involvement laws -- which allow a teenager seeking to end her pregnancy to get a judge's approval in lieu of her parents - is a real alternative for those teens that cannot tell their parents. The ACLU said that this is often not the case. Some teenagers live in regions where the local judges simply never grant bypass petitions. Others have difficulty navigating complicated court processes.

Opposition to the measure remains broad. At today's hearing, the ACLU's concerns were echoed by Rev. Lois Powell, Chair of Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. Rev. Powell told the committee that the bill would make young women "even more vulnerable during a time of crisis." The proposal, she said, would also "drive a wedge between the daughters and parents and could cause a lifelong breach in family communication."

"This measure ignores those women that cannot turn to their parents to talk about unwanted pregnancies," the ACLU's Murphy added. "Healthy family communication cannot be legislated."

Rev. Lois Powell's testimony can be found at:
/ReproductiveRights/ReproductiveRights.cfm?ID=16129&c=143

The ACLU's analysis of the bill can be found at:
/cpredirect/12543

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