House Passes Teen Abortion Bill

Australian actress Cate Blanchett is shown in a scene from the film "Bandits," for which she was nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role at the 8th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards Nominations, in Los Angeles, CA, 29 January 2002. The Awards will be presented in Los Angeles 10 March 2002.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that would make it illegal to dodge parental-consent laws by taking minors across state lines for abortions, the latest effort to chip away at abortion rights after Republican gains in the November elections.

By 270-157, the House sent the bill to the Senate, where it has new momentum as an item on the Republicans' top 10 list of legislative priorities.

Reflecting rising public support for requiring parents' involvement in their pregnant daughters' decisions, the bill would impose fines, jail time or both on adults and doctors involved in most cases where minors were taken out of state to get abortions.

This was the third time since 1998 the House has approved the measure, sponsored by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from Florida. The Senate has never taken it up and no vote has been set, but Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Republican from Tennessee, has pledged to bring it up for a vote this summer.

In another sign of the measure's new support, Democratic Rep. William Clay of Missouri, who staunchly favors abortion rights and voted against the measure in the past, voted for it on Wednesday. Clay said he switched in response to an outpouring of support for the bill from constituents in his heavily black St. Louis district.

"This bill simply says that a parent has a right to know if their child is having surgery," Clay said.

If passed by the Senate and signed by the president, the bill would represent the fifth measure since President George W. Bush took office in 2001 aimed at reducing the number of abortions.

Senate abortion opponents prevailed last month in preventing Democrats from restricting the rights of abortion clinic protesters in bankruptcy court.

Tempers flared in the House even before the emotional floor debate.

Democrats complained that their efforts to soften the bill, for example, by exempting from prosecution adult siblings and grandparents who help pregnant minors, were described in the Republican Party-authored committee report as efforts to protect "sexual predators."

Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, a Republican who authored the panel's report on the bill, defended its language, saying the Democratic amendments would not have specifically excluded child molesters from protections.

"Perhaps these amendments were not properly drafted by the authors when they were submitted in the committee," Sensenbrenner told the House. "That's not the fault of the majority, that's the fault of the people who drafted the amendment."

Rep. Jerry Nadler, a Democrat from New York, called the report by Sensenbrenner's committee "a rape of the rules of this House."