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A new federal move to limit teen abortions

The House considers new out-of-state restrictions.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 27, 2005


The abortion issue has long undergirded some of the biggest political questions of the day - from how federal judges are confirmed to whether a politician can credibly compete for the presidency. Now, with little fanfare, the House of Representatives is set to take up legislation Wednesday that would impose new restrictions on access to abortion itself, specifically, in the case of minors.

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The bill, called the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act, or CIANA, 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.

In contrast with the ban on so-called "partial-birth abortions," which is not in effect as it faces continued court action, legal experts say that the new teen abortion restrictions have a much better chance of becoming the law of the land and would have broad impact.

"This will impose real obstacles and pain upon real people," says David Garrow, a legal historian at Emory Law School in Atlanta. "And it's a far better than 50-50 shot it'll be upheld rather than struck down as unconstitutional."

Other versions of this bill have passed the House before, most recently in 2002, but the Senate has never signed off on it. Since last fall's elections, though, the Senate has netted up to three more abortion-rights opponents, and supporters of CIANA are optimistic.


Abortion-rights advocates are caught in a bind: 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.

Furthermore, abortion-rights supporters are focused on preserving the right of the Senate to filibuster judicial nominees - a procedure they believe is crucial to keeping antiabortion judges out of federal courts, and, ultimately, preserving the existence of the constitutional right to abortion.

With a Supreme Court vacancy expected soon, the future of majority support for the landmark 1973 abortion decision, Roe v. Wade, is a central question.

As for CIANA, "this is tough legislation to argue against on its face," says Helena Silverstein, a political scientist at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., and author of a forthcoming book on judicial bypasses. "The appeal of parental-involvement mandates is so strong, and this legislation appears to bolster that."

What troubles Ms. Silverstein 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."