RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The Senate has approved a measure that would prohibit taking a teenager across state lines to have an abortion as a way of getting around state laws requiring a parent's knowledge or consent.
The vote was 65 to 34. It's the first time the Senate has approved such a bill, and opponents charged it was about election year politics. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR reporting:
A majority of states have laws that require a minor seeking an abortion to get her parents' consent or to notify them. This bill would make it a crime to take the minor to a state that doesn't have such laws in order to get an abortion. Nevada Republican John Ensign is the measure's sponsor.
Senator JOHN ENSIGN (Republican, Nevada): This bill goes a long way in strengthening the effectiveness of state laws designed to protect parents and their young daughters from the health and safety risks associated with secret abortions.
NAYLOR: Pennsylvania Republican Rick Santorum pointed to Yellow Page ads appearing in directories in some of his state's communities. He said they encouraged minors to travel to neighboring states without notification or consent requirements.
Senator RICK SANTORUM (Republican, Pennsylvania): …advertising no consent, no waiting period. Directly aimed at minors in Pennsylvania to come and have abortions at their clinic across the state line.
NAYLOR: Backers pointed to polls showing wide support for laws that require parental consent before a minor can get an abortion, something they said both supporters of abortion rights and opponents agreed on. Opponents of the bill said it would mean family members trying to protect a girl from an abusive father could face prosecution. California Democrat Barbara Boxer.
Senator BARBARA BOXER (Democrat, California): This bill, as it is drafted, will throw a grandmother in jail. Let's say the father has committed incest on the daughter, and she's hysterical. The first place she goes, I say to my friend, is not some judge, but to her grandma - or to her priest or to her rabbi - and say please help me out of this.
NAYLOR: By a vote of 98 to 0, Senators modified the measure so that abusive fathers would not be protected under the legislation. Another amendment that would've exempted clergy members was not offered. Lawmakers defeated a proposal to provide federal funds for sex education courses, as well as abstinence programs, as a way of avoiding teen pregnancies in the first place.
There are no statistics on how many minors have gone to other states seeking abortions, but Democrats charge it's hardly a pressing issue. In recent weeks, lawmakers have voted on constitutional amendments barring same-sex marriage and flag burning. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said this was another attempt by Republican congressional leaders to fire up their base in the months before the mid-term election.
Durbin said the bill was also a way for Republicans to avoid discussing other issues.
Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): This debate here, over this issue, is taking time away from any debate on gasoline prices, on health insurance, on jobs for Americans.
NAYLOR: The House approved its own version of the legislation last year. It contains several differences from the Senate measure that will have to be worked out in a conference committee before President Bush will have a chance to sign the bill. Its not clear if that will happen in this session of Congress, last night Democrats blocked, for now, the naming of Senate negotiators.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capital.
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