The House of Representatives passed a bill today which would make it a crime for any person to transport a minor across state lines for the purpose of evading parental notification laws to procure an abortion.
On face, parental notification laws seem quite reasonable. We require parents to be informed of any other medical action being taken on their child, so why should an abortion be an exception? Indeed, one could plausibly argue that abortion is more worthy of parental notification, since, after all, it does represent an intense and emotional moral decision that should come with care, support, and familial guidance.
Matthew Yglesias, however, dissects that notion and hits upon my chief concern.
But the real locus for action with these laws isn't with families like that. It relates to young women who've gotten pregnant and who have socially conservative parents. The main effect of the laws is to intimidate such women out of getting abortions for fear of what their parents (most likely fathers) will do to them if they're told. Now if you believe abortion is murder, this is a great deal. From within the relevant class of people, a certain number are successfully intimidated out of having abortions. A sub-set of these women probably wind up being subjected to physical abuse by their parents, but a few beatings is a small price to pay for cutting down on the number of baby killers.
While nobody is afraid to inform mom and dad about knee surgery, or a flu shot, there is a significant number of teenagers who have legitimate reason to fear informing their parents about either a prospective abortion or a pregnancy. That alone distinguishes it from other medical actions. The primary group affected by parental consent/notification laws are young teens from socially conservative families, who will be disapproving of the pregnancy at the very least, and be overtly hostile and/or abusive at the most. Teenagers from healthy families would for the most part already tell their parents if they were going to have an abortion. Even teenagers which come from caring, pro-life families I suspect (hope) would be able to inform their parents if they were going to make that fateful decision. The group that wouldn't notify their parents are the girls who have reason to fear their parents would beat them, verbally abuse them, or kick them out of the house (not to mention those raped by their father or other family members). That group--most likely scared, confused, unlikely to know legal remedies to their situation and least likely to reside in locales with sympathetic judges (for judicial bypasses)--is the one targeted by this bill, and I submit it is predatory for that reason (Legal Fiction gives us a sneak preview of what the first conviction under this bill will look like).
But there are those, such as Kevin Drum, who are more undecided on the issue than I am. But even he (as well as I, and anybody else who cares about fair political discourse) is outraged by how Republicans behaved in the debate over the bill. Basically, the Democrats submitted a series of amendments, which committee chair James Sensenbrenner rewrote to make it sound like Democrats were defending sexual predators (the bill, needless to say, has nothing to do with sexual predators at all). Obsidian Wings has the details:
"DEMS: a Nadler amendment allows an adult who could be prosecuted under the bill to go to a Federal district court and seek a waiver to the state's parental notice laws if this remedy is not available in the state court. (no 11-16)
GOP REWRITE:. Mr. Nadler offered an amendment that would have created an additional layer of Federal court review that could be used by sexual predators to escape conviction under the bill. By a roll call vote of 11 yeas to 16 nays, the amendment was defeated.
DEMS: a Nadler amendment to exempt a grandparent or adult sibling from the criminal and civil provisions in the bill (no 12-19)
GOP REWRITE: . Mr. Nadler offered an amendment that would have exempted sexual predators from prosecution under the bill if they were grandparents or adult siblings of a minor. By a roll call vote of 12 yeas to 19 nays, the amendment was defeated.
DEMS: a Scott amendment to exempt cab drivers, bus drivers and others in the business transportation profession from the criminal provisions in the bill (no 13-17):
GOP REWRITE. Mr. Scott offered an amendment that would have exempted sexual predators from prosecution if they are taxicab drivers, bus drivers, or others in the business of professional transport. By a roll call vote of 13 yeas to 17 nays, the amendment was defeated.
DEMS: a Scott amendment that would have limited criminal liability to the person committing the offense in the first degree (no 12-18)
GOP REWRITE:. Mr. Scott offered an amendment that would have exempted from prosecution under the bill those who aid and abet criminals who could be prosecuted under the bill. By a roll call vote of 12 yeas to 18 nays, the amendment was defeated.
DEMS: a Jackson-Lee amendment to exempt clergy, godparents, aunts, uncles or first cousins from the penalties in the bill (no 13-20)
GOP REWRITE. Ms. Jackson-Lee offered an amendment that would have exempted sexual predators from prosecution under the bill if they were clergy, godparents, aunts, uncles, or first cousins of a minor, and would require a study by the Government Accounting Office. By a roll call vote of 13 yeas to 20 nays, the amendment was defeated."
Rep. Sensenbrenner justified the characterizations by saying that Democrats never explicitly excluded sexual predators from the amendments.
"Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who authored the panel's report, defended its language, saying the Democratic amendments would not have specifically excluded child molesters from protections.
'Perhaps these amendments were not properly drafted by the authors when they were submitted in the committee,' Sensenbrenner told the House. 'That's not the fault of the majority, that's the fault of the people who drafted the amendment.'"
To which Representative Nadler replied:
"Under CIANA, a father who rapes and impregnates his own daughter can go and sue the doctor or the grandparent or the clergyman who transported his child across state lines for the purpose of getting an abortion. Maybe that wasn't exactly the intent of this legislation. But according to the descriptive guidelines now laid out by the majority, it would therefore be fair to call this entire bill the Rapists and Sexual Predators Right to Sue Act."
Obsidian Wings adds some more potential bill rewrites under the "no specific exemption means you're defending sexual predators paradigm"
The Highway bill, for instance, can now be called the "Helping Sexual Predators Reach Their Victims More Quickly Act". A bill appropriating money for cabins at a National Park could be called the "Providing A Secluded Location In Which Sexual Predators Can Molest Their Victims Act". A new telecom regulations bill might be the "Enabling Sexual Predators To Communicate More Easily With Their Victims Act." The next time a supplemental appropriations bill for Iraq comes up, we can call it the "Enabling Sexual Predators To Target Our Men And Women In Uniform Act". (I mean, what are the odds that our armed forces, noble though they are, do not include at least one sexual predator?) The possibilities are endless.
This isn't honest political debate. This is childish mudslinging not even bothering to disguise itself as an argument. And it disgusts me.