Republicans and pro-life groups are outraged that Senate Democrats are, at least for now, blocking a newly approved bipartisan Senate bill aimed at protecting parents’ right to be involved in an underage daughter’s abortion decision.
“It is underhanded and disingenuous, and it needs to stop now,” said Sen. John Ensign, the Nevada Republican who sponsored the bill, which would make it illegal to skirt a state’s parental consent or notification law by taking a pregnant minor to a more lenient state to obtain an abortion.
The Senate approved the bill Tuesday, but Senate Democrats used procedural objections to prevent it from being sent this week to final negotiations with the House, which has approved a different version.
Democrats fear the final bill will contain tough provisions of the House version.
“If they’re truly interested in getting this done, the House should simply take up the Senate-passed bill,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat and one of 14 Democrats who voted for the Senate bill.
House Republicans rejected that idea.
“We don’t want to pass a weaker bill,” said Kevin Madden, spokesman for House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. He said House Republicans insist on final negotiations with the Senate.
Both bills would punish anyone who knowingly skirts a state’s parental notification or consent law by taking a pregnant minor to another state to have an abortion. Violators would face fines, up to one year in prison or both, and parents would be able to sue the person who transported their daughter.
The House version would require the doctor performing the abortion to contact at least one of the girl’s parents if the minor is from out of state. Failure to do so could result in fines, up to a year in prison or both.
The Senate bill doesn’t have such a provision, but is does contain language clarifying that a father who rapes his underage daughter wouldn’t be able to sue someone who transports her out of state for an abortion. If that father transports her, he would be subject to the bill’s penalties.
Mr. Ensign worked out that language with Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat and lead critic of the bill. Natalie Ravitz, Mrs. Boxer’s spokeswoman, said the Democrats’ “parliamentary action” is aimed at protecting that language.
“Senator Boxer wants rapists and perpetrators of incest punished,” she said. “The House bill, among other extreme things, allows rapist fathers to retain their parental rights. That’s simply not acceptable.”
Tom McClusky, vice president for government affairs at the Family Research Council, suggested that Democrats planned to block the bill all along, so that some of their members could vote for the popular measure while knowing it wouldn’t become law.
The Family Research Council is initiating telephone campaigns to pressure Mr. Reid and Sen. Richard J. Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who objected to sending the bill to conference.
Mr. Durbin said he was acting on Mrs. Boxer’s behalf. The Illinois Federation for Right to Life attacked him this week, asking, “Who does Dick Durbin represent, the citizens of Illinois, or the pro-abortion lobby?”
Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee said, “Senator Reid recognized 80 percent of public is on the side of this legislation, but his chain is being yanked by some special interest groups that are strongly opposed to it.”