Like a lot of other feminist bloggers, I am sick about the Teen Endangerment Act (also called the Child Custody Protection Act), which the U.S. Senate passed earlier this week. This Act would subject pregnant teenagers to the abortion restrictions of their home state regardless of where in the country they may seek an abortion. Thus (for example) an Alabama teenager who gets pregnant while in vacation in Alaska would be subject not only to Alaskan restrictions on abortions by minors, but also any Alabama restrictions. Furthermore, any adult who helps a teen cross state lines for an abortion would be subject to criminal federal penalties, unless the teen has already fulfilled her home state's requirements for getting an abortion.
The ACLU is all over it. You should read their whole memo, but I will reproduce their main bullet points below.
This legislation will not create good family communication where it does not already exist. The vast majority of pregnant teens do notify a parent of their decision to get an abortion. I think we should trust that those teens who choose otherwise have valid reasons for their choice. The ACLU cites the shocking case of a 13 year old Idaho 6th grader named Spring Adams whose father shot her to death after he learned that she planned to end a pregnancy he had caused. Even in cases that are not likely to be that severe, parents are capable of inflicting all sorts of abuse on teenagers. The teenager is in the best position to judge what the parents' reaction is likely to be.
For many young women, a court waiver is not a real alternative. The ACLU notes that the director of an Indianapolis women's clinic told the New York Times in 1992 that she was not aware of any teenager in Indianapolis being granted a judicial bypass of parental notification requirements between 1986 and 1992. Furthermore, in small town and rural settings, a teenagers have no guarantee of confidentiality as their presence in court is likely to cause gossip and comment in their communities.
This legislation will isolate the most vulnerable teens.
By closing outlets for teenagers facing an unwanted pregnancy, the bill would lead to some dangerous and desparate acts.
This legislation would criminalize compassion.
This legislation violates constitutional principles of federalism. The Constitution protects the right of every individual to travel freely from state to state and, when visiting another state, not to be treated as a foreigner. The bill would also discriminate among teenagers in the same state on the basis of their state of origin (i.e. two 15 year olds in Alaska will be treated differently because one is an Alaska resident and the other is an Alabama resident.)
It subjects teens to government-mandated harm. The Constitution prohibits the government from attempting to deter a constitutionally protected activity by increasing the danger of engaging in that activity.
It lacks a health exception and contains an inadequate life exception. I have written previously about the cavalier attitude defenders of parental notification hold about the life and health of pregnant teens.
Also worth repeating: These teenaged girls have a Constitutional right to an abortion. The defenders of parental notification contend that they are not interfering with this right because parental notification merely requires that parents be notified, not that the parents consent. But they know, and I know, and you know, and all the parents out there know, that parental notification is tantamount to a reqiurement of parental consent. Because parents (in most cases) have an enormous amount of physical, financial, psychic, and decisional control over their teenagers' lives. A parent, even a non-physically abusive one, can force his or her kid to undergo a pregancy (or to undergo an abortion if the kid changes her mind!).