For many years, anti-choice members of Congress have attempted to enact dangerous legislation that could imperil the health of teens by limiting their access to abortion. The Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act (CIANA) in the House of Representatives and the Child Custody Protection Act (CCPA) in the Senate make it a federal crime for a person other than a parent to help a minor obtain an abortion in another state if the minor has not fulfilled the parental involvement requirements of her home state.
According to these proposals, trusted aunts, sisters, grandmothers, clergy, counselors, and friends could be fined or imprisoned for helping a teen who may be a victim of family abuse, rape, or incest. These bills would prevent teens from seeking the help they need and disregards the fact that teenagers' individual family circumstances differ. Additionally, the callous legislation does not even include an adequate health exception.
The maze of varying state laws on parental involvement would essentially require doctors to become experts on each state's abortion law. The bills requirements operate differently depending on the laws of the teen's home state. Under the provisions of the CIANA, doctors are criminally liable if they provide abortion care to a teen from another state without first notifying a parent, regardless of the law in the doctor's jurisdiction or the teen's home state.
If enacted, the health of teens would be endangered; their rights violated; the ability of trusted adults to help young women limited; and families' decisions second-guessed. Here are some possible outcomes if this bill is signed into law:
- A teen obtains a judicial bypass in Arkansas and travels with her aunt to her nearest provider in Louisiana, which also has a parental involvement law. She may be required to obtain a judicial bypass in both Louisiana and Arkansas if she does not want to involve her parents in her decision, a process which would further tax her already limited time and resources.
- A New Jersey teen travels to New York, both states without parental involvement laws. The New York doctor would be required to provide notice to her parents regardless of whether she can safely involve them in her decision. A court waiver would not be available since neither New Jersey nor New York has such a system in place. CIANA mandates parental involvement even in states that have chosen not to legislate such onerous requirements.
These bills place enormous obstacles in the paths of teens and their families, creates civil and criminal penalties for doctors who try to treat patients to the best of their abilities and for trusted family members and friends who try to help a teen in need.
In most instances, parents know about a teen's decision to terminate a pregnancy, whether or not the family lives in a state with a parental involvement law. Unfortunately, parental involvement is not a realistic option for teens who come from homes that are emotionally or physically abusive, or for many who are victims of rape or incest. Other teens may not want to involve their parents for fear of disappointing them.1 Major medical groups such as the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Women's Association (AMWA), and the American Public Health Association (APHA) all stress that although parental involvement is ideal, laws mandating parental involvement threaten minors' health by encouraging teens to seek out dangerous alternatives to avoid telling their parents or by creating delays as a young woman navigates the judicial system. This legislation eliminates safe alternatives to parental involvement - such as turning to a grandmother or clergy member - and may instead lead young women to pursue dangerous alternatives.
The National Abortion Federation strongly opposes these bills that would endanger the health of young women.
1 In 1998, Bill and Karen Bell testified before Congress about their family's experience with a parental consent law. Ten years earlier, their 16-year-old daughter Becky learned she was pregnant. She feared disappointing her parents so much that she sought an illegal abortion rather than ask for her parents' consent. Within a week, Becky died from an infection caused by the unsafe abortion. The Bells believe that the parental consent law was responsible for Becky's death. Instead of encouraging Becky to involve her parents, the law led her to risk her life to obtain an abortion.