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House Gets Tough On Abortion

The House approved new abortion restrictions Wednesday by voting to make it more difficult for a minor to end a pregnancy.

Under a bill adopted 270-159, anyone who avoids parental involvement laws by taking a pregnant girl out of state for an abortion could be prosecuted in federal court. But the vote was more than a dozen short of the required two-thirds majority, or 286 votes, needed to overturn a threatened White House veto.

Supporters said the measure will protect the rights of parents, the health and well-being of their minor children and uphold laws in more than 30 states requiring parental consent or notification for minors seeking abortions.

Opponents argued that most minors already involve parents in the decision to have an abortion. They said girls who cannot turn to a parent, for whatever reason, would be isolated and left to handle the situation alone.

The White House is threatening a veto unless the bill is amended to exclude from liability close family members, counselors and medical professionals.

The Senate, which killed similar legislation last year, has yet to act on a companion measure pending in the Judiciary Committee.

During several hours of debate, supporters said parental consent is needed for many schools to give aspirin to their children or take them on field trips.

"But for a dangerous and sometimes fatal procedure a child ... can be transported across states lines without a simple notification of their parent," said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas. "This is criminal."

Other supporters said such a law would protect minors from adult men who often get them pregnant and then insist and even help them get abortions.

The bill would make it a federal misdemeanor for anyone other than a parent, guardian or legal custodian to take a girl to another state for an abortion, thus violating parental involvement laws in the child's home state.

It would not apply if the abortion was needed to save the girl's life, and neither the girl nor any parent may be prosecuted or sued.

Violators face maximum penalties of a year in jail and $100,000 in fines, and parents whose daughters had abortions could pursue a civil lawsuit.

Opponents noted that all teens don't come from loving homes and that other family members could end up in jail for simply trying to help.

They also said the bill was unconstitutional and argued that it was wrong to punish people for crossing state lines to obtain a legal service, such as an abortion, when they can go to another state to buy a gun or lottery ticket with impunity.

Before the bill reached the House floor, Republican leaders rejected amendments that Democrats sought to exempt close relatives and counselors from prosecutions, and also to withhold prosecution for pregnancies caused by incest.

"What will the police do? Are they going to set up 'granny checkpoints' to catch grandmohers helping their granddaughters?" asked Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., one of the House's strongest abortion rights advocates. "Will we have dogs and search lights at state borders to lock up aunts and uncles?"

Rep. Charles Canady, R-Fla., said that, in such cases, relatives can help by assisting the minor in getting a judge's permission for an abortion, as many of the state laws allow. But opponents said that option doesn't always work.

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