- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Republicans last night secured a long-sought pro-life victory as the Senate approved a bill that would protect parents’ right to be involved in their pregnant teen’s abortion decision.

“I believe this is a significant pro-parent, pro-child, pro-life piece of legislation,” Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, said of the bill, which would make it a crime to avoid a state’s parental-notification or -consent law by taking a minor to another state to obtain an abortion.

The measure passed, 65-34. Fourteen Democrats voted in favor of the measure, while four Republicans voted against it.

The House passed a similar measure last year, so the legislation now goes to final House-Senate negotiations.

The bill still faces obstacles before reaching President Bush’s desk. In addition to differences with the House version, Senate Democrats last night objected when Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, moved to send the bill into the final negotiations stage.

The last time the Senate considered the issue, in 1998, supporters were unable to muster the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, failing 54-45.

This year however, the bill had enough votes, so when Mr. Frist pushed the measure forward, Democrats allowed it to come to the floor, though many of them complained that the vote timing was purely political and that the Senate should focus on more important matters.

“I don’t think it’s an issue in New York,” Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, said of the bill.

“This is Frist’s ‘to-do’ list for the campaign,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, referring to Mr. Frist’s possible presidential aspirations.

The bill would punish anyone who knowingly skirts a state’s parental-consent or -notification law by taking a pregnant minor to a state with more lenient laws to obtain an abortion. Violators would face fines and up to one year in prison. The only exception to the bill’s penalties would be if the abortion was needed to save the girl’s life.

Proponents said the law would not undermine state laws or force parental involvement on the handful of states that don’t require it.

“This bill goes a long way in strengthening the effectiveness of state laws designed to protect parents and their young daughters from the health and safety risks associated with secret abortions,” said Sen. John Ensign, Nevada Republican and bill sponsor.

But one leading Democrat suggested that the measure could result in the arrest of a grandmother who tries to help a troubled teenager.

“Congress ought to have higher priorities than turning grandparents into criminals,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.

Mr. Bush strongly supports the measure because he said transporting minors to other states to avoid parental-involvement laws “undermines state law and jeopardizes the lives of young women.”

“I appreciate the Senate’s efforts to preserve the integrity of state law and protect our nation’s families,” he said after the bill passed last night

Senate supporters of the measure said it is ridiculous that minors need permission slips for school trips or medicine from a school nurse, yet a pregnant minor can be taken to another state for a secret abortion without her parent’s knowledge.

“I think that this is a bill that Americans can come together on,” said Mr. Ensign said. “This is a reasonable piece of legislation.”

But Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, complained that the bill flatly ignores situations involving abuse or incest.

“It’s an outrage,” she said. “What about the millions of victims of violence and abuse?”

Mrs. Boxer called the bill “unconstitutional” but reached an agreement with Mr. Ensign that she said would go “partway” toward solving the bill’s problems. The compromise, adopted 98-0, would apply the bill’s penalties to any father who rapes his daughter and then takes her to another state for a secret abortion.

According to the National Right to Life Committee, 26 states would be covered by the bill, because those states have strong laws requiring parental consent, or notice or the intervention of a judge before a minor can have an abortion. Other states have parental-involvement laws that have loopholes or other problems, while Washington, Oregon, New York, Hawaii and Vermont have no such laws, according to the NRLC.

Polls show a majority of people support parental-involvement laws.

Democrats also turned the debate yesterday to sex education and after-school programs, complaining that Republicans have failed in these areas, which Democrats argued are better ways to reduce teen pregnancies and abortions.

Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat, offered a proposal that would have created a new grant program to teach comprehensive sex education and boosted money for existing after-school programs. The amendment failed 51-48.

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