ACLU Says Adults Helping Frightened Teens Should Not Become Outlaws; Proposal Puts Lives of Vulnerable Young Women at Risk

June 3, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – As the Senate Judiciary Committee convened a hearing on the Teen Endangerment Act, dubbed the “Child Custody Protection Act” by proponents, the American Civil Liberties Union today renewed its objections and urged the defeat of the controversial legislation that would put the lives of vulnerable young women at risk and would turn caring adults into criminals.

“This dangerous piece of legislation, if enacted, would seriously threaten the health and welfare of the young women of America,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “At a time when they need support and assistance the most, this measure seeks to punish teenagers. Those adults that seek to help them should not be made into criminals.”

The bill (S. 851) would make it a federal crime for a person, other than a parent, to transport a minor across state lines for an abortion unless the minor had already fulfilled the requirements of her home state’s parental involvement law. The bill saddles a young woman with the laws of her home state no matter where she travels in the nation.

The ACLU said that if the bill were to become law, teenagers would be denied the counsel and support of trusted family members or friends when seeking an abortion out of state. The bill only allows parents to travel with their child; other family members such as grandparents or aunts and uncles would be subject to criminal prosecution.

The bill would have no effect on the number of pregnant teenagers who tell their parents about their decision to have an abortion, the ACLU said. Studies show that most teenagers voluntarily inform their parents of their decision and that those that do not are often unable to do so due to tragic circumstances such as incest or domestic violence.

According to an analysis prepared by the ACLU, the legislation also ironically violates core constitutional principles of federalism that are often espoused in other contexts by avowed supporters of this bill. It supplants the laws in a majority of states in this country because they either do not have any parental involvement requirements or have a law that does not conform to the definition set forth in the bill

Proponents of the bill have also argued that the “judicial bypass” option in state parental involvement laws — which allow a teenager seeking to end her pregnancy to get a judge’s approval in lieu of her parents – is a real alternative for those teens that cannot tell their parents. The ACLU said that this is often not the case. Some teenagers live in regions where the local judges simply never grant bypass petitions. Others have difficulty navigating complicated court processes.

“This measure seeks to take away a whole support system that young women need when faced with an unintended pregnancy,” Murphy said. “If members of Congress are truly committed to the welfare of our nation’s young women, they will reject this dangerous measure.”

The ACLU Interested Persons Memo Opposing the Teen Endangerment Act (S.851/H.R.1755), is at:

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