Missouri Court Hears Case on Abortion Consent
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The Missouri Supreme Court today hears arguments on an abortion law. It would allow parents to bring civil lawsuits against people who help their kids get an abortion without parental consent. That's even if the abortion takes place out of state. This law is similar to a federal effort to enact criminal penalties for those who help minors cross state lines to get an abortion.
We have more this morning from NPR's Kathy Lohr.
KATHY LOHR: The idea of the law started with an ad in the yellow pages of the local phone book, according to State Senator John Loudon who sponsored the bill.
State Senator JOHN LOUDON (Republican, Missouri): Some in Illinois would advertise in Missouri and say, right in the advertisement, that young girls who are pregnant should come to Illinois for their abortions, where no parental consent is required. And that's marketing.
LOHR: A yellow and purple ad for a clinic in Granite City, Illinois, does run in the yellow pages. A staff member says a line in the ad, parental notification not required, was removed about four years ago. Illinois does not have a parental consent law. Loudon says legislators felt Missouri's restrictions were being circumvented; that something needed to be done.
Sen. LOUDON: We made it a civil violation to take somebody else's daughter, to aid that daughter in getting an abortion, without the parents' consent.
LOHR: The law passed in a special session of the Missouri legislature last year, but it's been held up in the courts ever since. The language of the law says that no person shall cause, aid, or assist a minor in obtaining an abortion without her parents' consent. If they do, they're subject to civil suits, including compensation for emotional injury and punitive damages.
Ms. EVE GARTNER (Attorney, Planned Parenthood): This is an unprecedented attempt by a state to try to export its restrictive abortion laws beyond its state borders.
LOHR: That's Eve Gartner, an attorney for Planned Parenthood who is fighting the law. Separate versions of federal bills on the issue passed the U.S. House and Senate this year, that would make it a crime to take a minor across state lines for an abortion. So far, the two chambers haven't reached a compromise. Gartner says the Missouri law goes further and amounts to a ban on free speech.
Ms. GARTNER: The federal bill was limited to a restriction on transporting a minor across state lines. The Missouri law is far broader because it's a prohibition on any form of aid or assistance. So it's not limited to transportation, it also includes providing accurate information, providing counseling, including counseling by clergy members.
LOHR: But Missouri Right to Life Spokeswoman, Susan Klein, says the law protects the rights of parents.
Ms. SUSAN KLEIN (Missouri Right to Life): Is it against free speech for a parent to be able to protect their minor daughters? I think parents have the freedom to protect their daughters. And this just gives them the ability, in the courts, to sue anyone who would take their minor daughters across state lines without the parents knowing for an abortion.
LOHR: Pro-life groups see the law as a common sense way for Missourians to uphold their own parental consent requirement. Pro-choice advocates see it as a chance for Missouri to grab additional power.
Janet Crepps is with the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Ms. JANET CREPPS (Center for Reproductive Rights): It's the state of Missouri saying that we think our law should trump the law of our surrounding states, but that's not how our federal system works.
LOHR: Legislators in other states are waiting for the outcome of this court case to decide whether they should pursue similar bills or whether they'll have to leave it up to Congress to agree on new abortion legislation.
Kathy Lohr, NPR News.
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