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Abortion laws

U.S. Federal bills dealing with interstate
travel of pregnant minors to obtain abortions

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In an ideal world, young women would always have a close, positive relationship with their parents. Any woman who found herself in crisis because she is pregnant would naturally go to her parents for support and advice. But this is not a perfect world. Some women have less than ideal relationships with their parents; they have a legitimate fear that they will be physically abused or ejected from their home if their parent found out that they were pregnant. Other women are concerned about the negative effect that news of a pregnancy would have on their parent's health. They feel a need to obtain an abortion without their parents being informed. Lawmakers are split along the usual conservative/liberal lines. Conservatives generally favor "parental consent or notification" laws that would require that before a minor woman has an abortion, she has to either:

  • notify (or obtain the consent from) at least one parent or guardian, or
  • obtain a court order permitting the abortion.

Liberals generally emphasize the safety and privacy of the woman and favor laws that permit women of all ages to obtain abortions in confidence. They point out that some women who live in states with these laws will seek out an unsafe "back-alley" abortion, that could ultimately be fatal. Deaths have occurred in some states as a result of women trying to circumvent the consent/notification law. Other women will attempt to go to a nearby state that does not have a consent or notification law; they would run the slight risk of complications during the trip home, when medical attention might not be conveniently accessible. 

The abortion rates in those states which have implemented these laws tend to drop significantly. However, it is probable that most young women seeking abortions who also fear violence or rejection from their parents simply go to a nearby state. Some teens are helped by friends or groups to make a trip to an adjoining state which does not have a parental notification law in order to circumvent the laws of the state where the woman resides.

A federal law has been proposed to criminalize the transport of minor females across state lines in order to circumvent a state consent or notification law.

Supporters of the bill believe that:

  • When a young woman is pregnant her parents need to be informed in order that the family can make the appropriate decision.
  • Many minors who become pregnant are impregnated by adult males (18 years or older). These men are often motivated to obtain an abortion out of state in order to keep the pregnancy secret. Otherwise, they could be charged with statutory rape.
  • Senator John Ensign said, with reference to his bill S. 851:
    "Children can't go on a field trip or be given an aspirin in school without written permission from their parents, but nothing prevents them from being taken across state lines for an abortion without their parents' knowledge or consent. That's a situation that must change, and this legislation will accomplish that....Hopefully, this bill will help encourage parental involvement in the decision as to whether or not to have an abortion by making it harder to evade the law by running to another state. It is a common-sense solution to a serious and complex problem in this country." 8

Opponents of the bill argue that:

  • If intra-state and inter-state laws are in place, some young women will attempt to obtain unsafe, back-alley abortions in their home state.  The American Medical Association states:
    "Because the need for privacy may be compelling, minors may be driven to desperate measures to maintain the confidentiality of the pregnancies. They may run away from home, obtain a 'back alley' abortion, or resort to self-induced abortion. The desire to maintain secrecy has been one of the leading reasons for illegal abortion deaths since...1973." 6
  • If they go alone to an adjoining state, they run the risk of complications during the trip home when medical help might not be readily available. 
  • If a young woman has a good relationship with her parents, then no parental consent/notification law is needed. If her relationship is not supportive, then to force her to inform her parents might lead to abuse or ejection from the house. The Center for Reproductive Rights states that:
    "For battered teenagers and incest survivors in particular, laws that require parental consent or notice increase the risks in an already dangerous situation." 4
    The American Association of University Women states that:
    "Even in the absence of a legal requirement, more than 61 percent of parents know of their daughter's pregnancy. Young women who choose not to involve their parents have many valid reasons. For example, one-third of teens who do not involve their parents have already been the victims of family violence and fear it will recur with the news of a pregnancy." 5
  • The Center for Reproductive Rights continues:
    "Many young women who do not voluntarily involve a parent will instead consult another trusted adult in their decision to seek an abortion. This legislation will force young women to choose between forgoing assistance from these supportive adults and exposing them to criminal liability. The Act could lead to the arrest of grandmothers and aunts who are looking out for the best interests of the young women they care about." 4
  • Many young women prefer to have an abortion out of their state, because of:
    • Economic reasons: an out of state abortion might be cheaper
    • Accessibility to a clinic: there may not be an abortion clinic near her home.
    • Supportive friends and relatives in a nearby state.
    • Lack of knowledge on how to obtain a judicial bypass, and thus obtain an abortion without informing her parents.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that women have a right to request abortions early in pregnancy. In legal terms, obtaining an abortion is a constitutionally protected conduct. If passed, this law would make such conduct more dangerous to the woman; they would be required to travel out of state alone, without a friend or relative to support her and to help handle any emergency that might arise. The law would regulate interstate travel in a manner that is unconstitutional. It would discriminate against individuals based on their state of residency.

Various versions of a Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act (CIANA) have passed the House of Representatives by large margins in 1998, 1999, 2002, 2005, 2006, and 2007. However, none have ever proceeded to the President for signature.

1998 activity:

On 1998-JUN-11, the House Judiciary Constitution Subcommittee passed interstate teen abortion bill #7-2. It would make it a crime for a person (other than a parent or guardian) to transport a minor pregnant woman across a state line so that she could obtain an abortion.

Rep. Charles Canady, (R-FL), chairman of the House of Representatives' Judiciary Constitution Subcommittee said that girls were being helped to circumvent both parental rights and the laws of many states. Rep. Maxine Waters, (D-CA) said that the bill cannot possibly withstand a constitutional challenge because it interferes with the woman's right to privacy. "This bill is unnecessary. It makes it a federal crime to exercise one's constitutional right."

This bill was passed by the House but was stalled in a Senate filibuster near the end of the legislative session. There were 54 votes in support of the Act. This was sufficient to pass the law but insufficient to terminate delaying tactics employed by opponents to the bill. The bill died.

1999 activity:

The Constitution Subcommittee of the House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee voted in favor of a new Child Custody Protection Act (H.R. 1218). The vote was divided strictly along party lines, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed. All amendments offered by the Democrats to modify the bill were similarly rejected.

The Judiciary Committee itself approved the bill on JUN-23. It cleared the House and was scheduled to be considered by the Senate in late 2000-MAR or early 2000-APR. The bill is opposed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and Planned Parenthood

President Clinton was in favor of the bill, but only if changes are made, to allow close family members (e.g. grandmothers, aunts, siblings) to take young women across state lines without parental notification. If passed into law, the legislation would provide fines and/or a jail sentence of up to one year. Also, parents would be allowed to sue persons who violate the law.

The bill did not become law; it died in the Senate.

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2001 activity:

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, (R-FL) again reintroduced the Child Custody Protection Act H.R. 476 into the House. It would criminalize any adult other than a parent or guardian who helped transport an underage woman across state lines to obtain an abortion unless a parent gives consent. It would not be applicable unless the state where the woman lives has a parental notification or permission law. It would also not be applicable if the abortion is needed to save the woman's life. The bill would allow parents to sue the adult(s) responsible. It is supported by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

2002 activity:

H.R. 1755 was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on 2002-MAR-20. It was passed by the House on 2002-APR-17, with a vote of 260 to 161; there were 13 abstentions. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) introduced an amendment which would have exempted an adult sibling, grandparent, minister, rabbi, pastor, priest, or other religious leader. It was voted down by a vote of 173-246.

The bill itself did not proceed; it was blocked in the Senate.

2003 activity:

The Child Custody Protection Act was reintroduced on 2003-APR-10. Senator Ensign (R-NV) brought it to the Senate as bill S. 851; Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen brought it to the house as H.R. 1755. 7 Fines of up to $100,000 and a jail sentence of up to one year could be given to anyone found guilty of violating this bill, if it were to become law. On 2003-APR-10, the house bill was referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary. On 2003-MAY-5, it was referred to the Subcommittee on the Constitution.

The bill did not proceed.

2005 activity:

The bill, H.R. 748, passed the House with a vote of 270 to 157 in 2005-APR. An amendment to allow exemptions for grandparents or members of the clergy was defeated. It would require a physician to provide at least 24 hours notice to a parent before performing an abortion.

2006 activity:

Bill S. 403, the Child Custody Protection Act, was introduced to the Senate in 2006-JUL. The Associated Press reported:

"Opponents...say the legislation would cut off an escape route for pregnant teens with abusive parents and punish confidants who might try to help them. 'We should not criminalize the grandparents or clergy members to whom a teen in trouble might turn for help,' said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, (D-CA), who will introduce an amendment to protect such confidants from prosecution."

"No one knows exactly how many girls try to cross state lines to end pregnancies to circumvent parental notification and consent laws back home. Polls suggest there is widespread public backing for the bill, with almost three-quarters of respondents saying a parent has the right to give consent before a child under 18 has an abortion."

" 'This is clearly not an issue divided on pro-life or pro-choice lines,' said Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) the bill's original sponsor. 'There is broad and consistent support to preserve the rights of parents'."

"Democrats introduced several amendments, to allow grandparents or members of the clergy to help a teen cross a state line, or in cases where the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest."

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced an amendment to provide more government funding for more sex education. It failed 48 to 51. Lautenberg said:

"If we do nothing about teen pregnancy yet pass this punitive bill, then it proves that this (bill) is only a political charade and not a serious effort to combat the problem."

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) responded:

"Abstinence is the best way to prevent teenage pregnancy. How many people really think it's in the best interest of young people to be sexually active outside of marriage? Does anything positive ever come from that?"

S. 403 was passed by a vote of 65 to 34. All of the Democratic amendments were defeated. The only exception allowed by the bill is in cases where the continued pregnancy would pose a threat to the life of the teen.

Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, (R-KY) said:

"No parent wants anyone to take their children across state lines or even across the street without their permission. This is a fundamental right, and the Congress is right to uphold it in law."

President Bush indicated that he would sign the bill. He said:

"Transporting minors across state lines to bypass parental consent laws regarding abortion undermines state law and jeopardizes the lives of young women."

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) said:

"Congress ought to have higher priorities than turning grandparents into criminals."

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), noting that the bill would endanger pregnant teens who have abusive or neglectful parents by discouraging other people from helping them, said:

"We're going to sacrifice a lot of girls' lives."

The House and Senate bills are quite different. Resolving them in committee proved to be impossible. 9,10 Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) objected to a routine motion.  This blocked the bill from proceeding to the legislative conference committee.

2007 activity:

The Federal Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act (CIANA), HR 1063 was introduced to the House by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R_FL) on 2007-FEB-15. It had 136 cosponsors (124 Republicans, 12 Democrats). It was referred to he Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. It has not proceeded.

Related essay on this web site:


  1. Dave Clark, "Senate eyes parental-rights bill," Family News in Focus, at: 
  2. "Ban on transport of minors for abortions reintroduced," Baptist Press, at:
  3. The text of HR 476 is at: You need software to read these files. It can be obtained free from:
  4. "The Child Custody Protection Act (CCPA): Harming Young Women Who Seek Abortions," Center for Reproductive Rights, 2003-DEC, at:
  5. "Child Custody Protection Act," American Association of University Women, 2003-JAN, at: The 61% figure appears to have originated with the Alan Guttmacher Institute.
  6. Cited in Reference 5.
  7. The text of S. 851 is at:
  8. "Ensign introduces child custody protection act," Press release, 2003-APR-10.
  9. Laurie Kellman, "Senate passes interstate abortion bill," Associated Press, 2006-JUL-25, at:
  10. Laurie Kellman, "Senate to pass interstate abortion bill," Associated Press, 2006-JUL-25, at:
  11. "H.R. 1063: Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act," at:

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Copyright date: 1998 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-OCT-25
Author: B.A. Robinson

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