Transporting Minors for Abortions to Be Illegal

The Senate yesterday overwhelmingly passed a law making it illegal to transport a minor across state lines for an abortion without parental consent.

The Senate passed legislation Tuesday that would make it a federal crime to help an under-age girl escape parental notification laws by crossing state lines to obtain an abortion. The bill was approved on a 65-to-34 vote, with 14 Democrats joining 51 Republicans in favor.

A similar measure passed the House last year, and President Bush said he would sign the legislation if the two chambers could work out their differences and send a final bill to him. In a statement, Mr. Bush said that “transporting minors across state lines to bypass parental consent laws regarding abortion undermines state law and jeopardizes the lives of young women.”

Indeed, it’s hard to fathom a reason to oppose this legislation. Whatever one’s views on abortion, surely kidnapping to accomplish it is a bad thing.

As always, theoretical hard cases are adduced:

Opponents said cases would inevitably arise in which a girl had been victimized by a relative, or in which parents were not available or did not have the girl’s best interest in mind. In those cases, they said, the legislation will pose a hardship or worse. “Life is not always the way we wish it to be,” said Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, who opposed the bill. “Sometimes tragedies happen, and sometimes families are not just negligent but abusive, and sometimes young girls are taken advantage of by members of their family, people in whom they should be able to trust.”

Yet, we do not ordinarily allow children to decide that parental decisions are bad, let alone have others take them across state lines to do what their parents have forbidden them to do. Further, the bill provides an exception for cases where “the abortion was necessary to save the life of the minor because her life was endangered by a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness, including a life endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself.”

Moreover, to pass Constitutional muster, parental notification laws must contain provisions for judicial intervention in such cases as described by Clinton. So, if a minor believes she would be subject to parental abuse if she disclosed her pregnancy, she has the option of bypassing her parents and going to a judge, who we trust to weigh these facts. We do not trust, for rather obvious reasons, minors to make such decisions on their own.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Law and the Courts, US Constitution, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. “Yet, we do not ordinarily allow children to decide that parental decisions are bad…”

    Actually, we do. In most states, children are allowed to make full medical decisions without parental permission or even notification well before the age of 18. In Alabama, doctors don’t have to notify parents about anything medical for a child over the age of 14 – EXCEPT for abortions. Even though I’m strongly against abortion, the illogic and inconsistency there bothers me.

    Once upon a time, I would have strongly championed a law like this as well. But in the last few years I’ve been through a few experiences that change my mind. There are a lot of cases that fall well below the legal definition of abuse where a child would be unquestionably better off getting something like this done without parental permission.

    I think there’s a huge public misconception about exactly what kinds of cases these generally are. From what I’ve seen, it’s generally not happening in cases where parents are reasonable and are helping their children make good decisions. This kind of situation is usually occurring when somebody other than her parents are the only adults the pregnant girl feels like she can turn to for help, and any adult who helps her do this usually agrees that she has good reasons not to tell her parents.

    “We do not trust, for rather obvious reasons, minors to make such decisions on their own.”

    Which exactly backs up what I just said – in cases like this, the minor is not making this decision on their own, almost by definition. She’s just found somebody other than her parents that she trusts a lot more. Any adults who help her do this aren’t undertaking it lightly. They know damn good and well that they face serious social penalties for doing anything of the sort. Nevermind the possibility that it’s technically illegal already under federal laws that prohibit transporting minors across state lines for “any immoral purposes” – or at least there’s the possibility that a judge could rule that way.

    This is a law that looks nice on paper and makes everybody feel good in theory, but when it meets the cold, messy real world it’s going to cause more problems than it solves.

  2. James Joyner says:


    I’m sure cases like that exist in substantial number. But, again, there’s always a judicial intervention exception.

    While a kid may have bad parents, she may well come from a good home and be afraid of fessing up to having made a horrible mistake in getting pregnant. Most of us were irrationally afraid of telling our parents of much more minor transgressions.

    And the “trusted adult” could well be just a local Planned Parenthood rep or the like.

  3. madmatt says:

    yes because all sorts of 12 -18 years olds are equipped to deal with the legal system and all its myriad mysteries….I am an adult and wouldn’t even know where to begin…so you suggest that a 14 year old victim of incest learn and effectively use the slow acting judicial system within 12 weeks…just come out and say sex is evil and we want to punish people who have it.!!!!!

  4. scott says:

    Yo Madmatt,

    You people get insane when this issue comes up.

    Just curious, how many abortions are due to incest in a year? My guess is that it is a minute number. Why don’t you abortion defenders ever take a step back and note that abortion is used as retroactive birth control. That may not bother you but the thought of all of those women having unprotected sex in the age of HIV should.

    I don’t think James was saying “sex is evil” but was saying that he doesn’t understand why normal people would disagree.

    That’s the problem with you pro-abortion types, everything has to be a worse-case scenario.

  5. McGehee says:

    You people get insane when this issue comes up.

    No, they started out that way. The abortion issue just gets their froth glands pumping more than usual.

  6. Ouch, I was afraid of this when I waded into the debate…

    I’m going to leave it at this: I have far less faith in either parents or the judicial system than James apparently does, and I also happen to think that in the real world (as opposed to a theoretical world) the circumstances in which this law will apply are very different from what most people have in their head.

    When James says it’s hard to fathom a reason to oppose this legislation, I merely feel it important to point out that there are, in fact, good reasons for rational adults to come to different conclusions here – and to warn him not to fall into the same rhetorical trap that the anti-war crowd has fallen into. Those of us who disagree with you aren’t stupid, and while you might very well disagree with our logic (and for good reasons), it doesn’t mean that we don’t have good reasons to believe what we do.

  7. madmatt says:

    hey scott…do you realize approximately 90% of teen pregnancies already involve the parents…maybe the remaining 10% have other reasons for not involving parents.

  8. Lee Scoresby says:

    “Whatever one�s views on abortion, surely kidnapping to accomplish it is a bad thing”

    Yes, James, which is why kidnapping is a crime.

    Unfortunately for your argument, the law doesn’t actually criminalize kidnapping, as the articles you cite and quote make abundantly clear.

  9. Redbeard says:

    Lee’s beat your argument, James.

    Kidnapping is already a crime, and if state lines are crossed the FBI brings heavy resources in to arrest the kidnappers. You think the FBI doesn’t treat kidnapping cases seriously? Call 202-736-7000 and ask them.