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ISSUE 118 VOL 20 PUBLISHED 5/13/2005

Chipping away rights across state borders

By Lisa Gulya
Variety Editor

Friday, May 13, 2005

On April 27, the House of Representatives passed a bill which would make it a federal crime for any adult to take a girl 17-years-old or younger across state lines without parental consent to have an abortion. Additionally, this bill would impose a 24-hour waiting period once the young woman enters another state, sometimes even if her parents are present. The Senate will likely consider a comparable bill within the next few months, and proponents are optimistic about the passage of that similar bill.

Supporters of the bill argue the necessity of preventing older boyfriends from coercing young women into getting abortions. Proponents see the decision to end a pregnancy as a family choice, not an individual one for the young woman. Furthermore, they argue that written permission is necessary in schools for field trips and administering aspirin and consider allowing young women greater freedom from parental control in the case of abortion to be inconsistent.

Opponents say that young women unwilling or unable to talk to their parents will attempt to obtain unsafe illegal abortions. The question of the ability to talk to one’s parents about such a decision is also important. What happens if the girl is abused or the pregnancy is incestuous? Any young woman beaten or impregnated by a parent or sibling would be hesitant to talk to a parent about an abortion. Such considerations place questions about parental authorization in an arena wholly separate from that of school-sponsored field trips.

Further, there are very basic, non-sinister reasons for any woman, minor or adult, to seek an abortion outside her home state.

Some women may seek out-of-state abortions because the process is less expensive elsewhere. Perhaps a young woman would prefer to seek the abortion away from home to avoid harassment from members of her community. And as the number of abortion providers dwindles, the closest abortion providers may be across state lines. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the United States experienced an 11 percent decrease in the number of abortion providers between 1996 and 2000.

While not ruling out the possibility of crossing state lines to obtain abortions, if enacted, this measure would make such action extremely difficult and potentially more dangerous for young women. If a girl unable to talk to her parents travels alone and experiences any post-operative complications, she will be without aid.

Three Democrat-proposed amendments to this bill were rejected. First, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., offered an amendment which would have exempted grandparents or adult siblings from criminal liability. This exemption would have taken into account the fact that very often there are relatives besides parents or legal guardians in a young woman’s life who take primary care roles.

The next rejected amendment from Rep. Robert Scott, D-Va., would have exempted professional transporters – bus or taxicab drivers – from prosection. Rejection of this amendment means that any young woman traveling to another state would be forced to have a driver’s license, not to mention access to a car – an economic luxury not available to many, especially those facing the cost of the abortion procedure.

Additionally, the 24-hour waiting period imposes another financial burden, forcing an overnight stay in another state that some may not be able to afford, even with parental accompaniment and support.

Finally, Rep. Maxine Walters, D-Calif., sponsored an amendment which would have made an exception for young women who were impregnated by a parent, guardian or another immediate family member.

The rejection of this final proposal clearly shows that the real purpose of this bill is not to protect young women from so-called “secret abortions” forced upon them by adult partners. This bill is really about solidifying a young woman’s identity as a child, thereby separating her from other women who, as adults, are entitled to reproductive choice. This bill is another unfortunate step in the erosion of a woman’s right to choose, which has been chipped away in the last few years by the outlaw of “partial-birth abortions” and by the decision to make harming a fetus a separate crime from that of an attack on a pregnant woman.

No legal pronouncement can force better communication between young women and their parents, especially one which fails to take into account situations in which the young woman’s safety would be endangered were she to discuss abortion. The proposed amendments, while all set forth by Democrats, were not partisan but practical. Their rejection reveals that this bill’s supporters are uninterested in the intricacies of the situation, intent only on limiting abortion access and enforcing family authority, whether it causes harm to the young woman or not.

Arts Editor Lisa Gulya is a sophomore from Fargo, N.D. She majors in English and Russian with a women’s studies concentration.

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