The "Child Custody Protection Act" protects whom, exactly?

The Senate shores up its base while putting pregnant teens at risk.


Lynn Harris
July 26, 2006 6:37AM (UTC)

The Senate, as feared, has passed the so-called Child Custody Protection Act, which would prevent family members such as grandparents, aunts and siblings from helping a teen cross state lines for an abortion unless she has met the requirements for parental involvement -- that is, consent or notification of one or both parents, depending -- in her home state. The penalty: a hefty fine, possible jail time.

"The Senate showed a frightening lack of compassion for American teens and a disturbing willingness to play politics with their health and safety today," said Planned Parenthood Federation of America vice president of public policy Stephenie Foster in a hot-off-the-presses release. "Forbidding young people from turning to trusted family members when they are in crisis does not prevent unintended pregnancy and the need for abortion. [Emphasis added by enraged Broadsheet writer.] Parents need support to keep their kids healthy and safe -- not laws that criminalize family members for helping teens get access to good medical care."

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Politics, indeed. If these teens were stem cells, these people would be all over them. I'll say it again: this law -- any parental-involvement-with-abortion law -- is disingenuous at best, cruel at worst. This we know: Most teens do involve a parent in these decisions, with or without a law. These laws, verily, are not about teens. They are not about "family communication." (Allowing a teen to leave a parent out of this decision -- likely with good reason -- is about as much a threat to the "family" as are, you know, the gays.) Rather, these laws are about misleading the public as a means of preventing abortion by any means necessary. In this case, by targeting minors. Who, it should be noted, do not vote.

Man, and opponents of this law were even blessed with good spin on this one. But even "Don't put Grandma in jail!" as it turns out, beats "Parents should know what their children are up to!" like scissors beats rock. As in, not. And boy, have the "parents should know" people put one over on us with this one. I mean, for God's sake. Of course parents should know. Also, parents should not abuse their children or threaten to kill them if they come home pregnant. And through the transitive property of "should," laws should not force teens to do something that could get them seriously hurt, or that, in effect, could force them to become parents. Democrats' efforts Tuesday to insert provisions for girls in abusive families were shot down. (Also rejected: a proposal to encourage the government to support more sex education. Natch.)

Don't even talk to me about the option of getting permission from a judge. Sure, you can do it, just like you can "go to small claims court" or "file a formal complaint." Cake! Now try doing that while you're in school or working full time and live a three-hour bus ride from the state capital and the superior court judges and have no idea how to navigate the system. (Thank goodness for groups like Texas' Jane's Due Process.) How about girls in two-parent-notification states who have never met their dad? Or whose mom is in jail? Even when there are legal ways around the system, the clock is ticking; the burden is cruelly, even surreally unreasonable.

So what are these girls supposed to do? I'm thinking, for example, of the many girls and women who have stayed at my apartment via New York's Haven Coalition, which arranges housing for out-of-state patients seeking abortions, especially those who -- stymied in part by laws like these -- have been pushed past the cutoff point for abortions at home. Those who are minors come here with a parent -- sometimes two! -- more often than not. But with this bill looming, the clinics Haven works with had already started balking, anticipating that if someone showed up from a parental-involvement state without proof of permission from a parent (or both, depending on the law), they simply would not be able to serve them. You know, 'cause it's the law ... in another state. Anyone willing to host such a girl -- and, say, the aunt or big sis who risked accompanying her -- would also be liable. Of course, it's unlikely that if this law is enforced, clinics in her home state would refer her to New York to begin with. Can't tell a parent at home, must tell a parent to get to New York. Again, I ask: What are they supposed to do? Pay more attention in abstinence-only sex-ed class?

Planned Parenthood also notes that the CCPA is unconstitutional. "It fails to make an exception for emergencies that threaten severe damage to a minor's health, and it burdens the constitutional right to travel to seek medical care to end a pregnancy," PPFA notes in its release. "CCPA also ignores the fact that, because 87 percent of counties in the United States have no abortion provider, for many women the nearest provider is in another state."

I could go on, but this post is already mammoth, and I need a drink. Still, there's more to be explored about this law and its future, more questions to be answered, such as: How do lawmakers intend to square it with the House version, which passed with much more stringent requirements attached? And don't other matters of constitutional law apply? Also, now what? More answers as we get them.

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Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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