March was an important month for key legislation concerning human life and family life in the United States. On March 8, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution listened to arguments for and against the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act, more commonly known as CIANA. Dr. Michael New, adjunct scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, provided valuable testimony for the proceedings along with Teresa Collett, professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, and the Rev. Katherine Ragsdale, President of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass. Following the hearing, on March 23, the bill passed through the committee and will now is headed to the House floor.
CIANA would prevent the taking of minors across state lines in order to circumvent laws requiring the involvement of parents in abortion decisions. Supporters of the bill see it as a commonsense regulation, especially as it concerns children who would be unable to get most other surgical proceedings done without the consent of their parent or guardian. Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), chairman of the subcommittee, stressed the importance of parental involvement in the decision-making process as an unexpected pregnancy can be a tumultuous time and abortion can lead to physical, emotional, and physiological complications an adolescent can be unprepared for.
Opponents of the bill see it as unconstitutional and inimical to women’s reproductive freedom. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) compared CIANA to the Fugitive Slave Act, saying he “didn’t know what Frederick Douglass would think of a bill like this.” Both Rep. Nadler and Rev. Ragsdale asserted that the home environment of a minor is often unsafe and there are cases where a parent or guardian is abusive, making it necessary for the minor to reach out to some other trusted adult for help. However, as noted in Teresa Collett’s testimony, judicial bypasses would still be available in instances where that was the case.
Parental notification laws for abortion procedures have been found to be consistently popular with the American people. A recent Gallup poll found that 71% of Americans support them. As Dr. New noted, parental notification laws reduce the in-state abortion rates for minors. These regulations reflect a common understanding that parents are primarily responsible for their minor children. The blocking of CIANA by opponents appears to imply that unknown adults have the right to violate state law by taking someone else’s child into another state to secure an abortion for that child that would violate the law in the state of residence. This is cause for concern especially when parental notification could potentially stop statutory rape or other abuse. Abortion can be used to cover up evidence of the wrongdoing, returning the young girl to her abuser without her parents ever knowing she needs help.
In cases where a young girl finds herself confronting a very difficult decision, few people would advocate for her to go through the situation alone. Collett asserts that whether the minor girl decides to terminate her pregnancy or not, it is better to have her parents helping to make the decision for the sake of her health and well-being. “The Child Interstate Parental Notification Act has the unique virtue of building upon two of the few point of agreement in the national debate over abortion: the desirability of parental involvement in a minor’s decisions about an unplanned pregnancy, and the need to protect the physical health and safety of the pregnant girl.”