What If It’s Illegal for a Minor to Cross State Lines to Get an Abortion?

There are only 13 states in the US where it is possible for a minor to obtain an abortion without either notifying or explicitly receiving permission from either one or both parents. For those who get pregnant in such states there is the option of continuing the pregnancy, finding a judge who may be willing to grant a judicial bypass so they can get an abortion without parental involvement, or they can travel to one of the few states that allows minors unrestricted access to abortion services.

However, if Congressional Republicans have their way, that final option may soon be off the table.

The GOP has proposed some form of interstate abortion law almost every session for the past decade. The idea behind them is a simple one: make it illegal for someone to take a minor to a different state for an abortion if her home state requires parental consent or notification. Despite the fact that parental notification or consent bills have been some of the more popular abortion restrictions in the country, these interstate laws have never really gained any sort of federal traction.

In 2006, when the Child Custody Protection Act was proposed as a means to better enforce these state notification laws by making crossing the borders a crime, Mother Jones explained, “Not all families are well functioning, and missy might have very good reason to think that dad would unleash some righteous whoop-ass on any daughter of his who is even sexually active, never mind one who wants an abortion. So a minor’s wellbeing can be put at risk by making it more difficult for her to get an abortion without parental involvement — for instance, by going out of state.

Objections became even more strenuous in 2012, when abortion rights activists began dubbing it the “arrest Grandma” bill, because it would punish any adult – regardless of the relationship to the patient – who took a minor into a more accessible state to terminate a pregnancy. “The bill’s backers call it the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act (CIANA). We call it the ‘Arrest Grandma’ Act because of what it would do,” NARAL Prochoice America’s president Nancy Keenan wrote that year. “The ‘Arrest Grandma’ Act would make it a federal crime for anyone other than a parent — such as a loving grandmother, aunt, or clergy member — to accompany a young woman to another state for abortion care. It also would force doctors to learn and enforce 9 other states’ parental-involvement laws — under the threat of fines and prison sentences. Is it really the role of government to inject itself into difficult family situations? I don’t think so.”

CIANA died in committee a few times since then, but now it has once more reared its head — and unfortunately this time the federal landscape is perfectly poised for successful passage. Ohio Senator Rob Portman reintroduced the Child Custody Protection Act in May, putting the restriction back on the table as a means of allegedly combating human sex trafficking.

“Human traffickers and child molesters don’t want parents involved in abortion decisions, so they take underage girls across state lines for abortions to avoid laws in the victim’s home state,” writes the conservative news site OneNewsNow. “‘Abortionists often times use it as a way to cover up abuse or a way to cover up human trafficking, and it doesn’t get rid of the real problem or the real circumstances that are surrounding the decision to abort,’ [Ohio Right to Life spokeswoman Katie] Franklin says. ‘It just ends a human life.'”

While anti-abortion activists like to pretend that going to a different state is the method of choice for those who are abusing minors, the reality is that as states tighten consent laws, even parents and guardians in some states are finding it more difficult to actually approve an abortion for their child. Estranged parents may be unable to get a hold of a spouse in states that mandate two parent consent, or a parent may be unable to provide a government issued ID in order to prove parentage in other states. Some states like Oklahoma or Louisiana demand notarized consent from a parent, an additional financial hardship for those who are poor and may be having a difficult time getting the funds for the procedure as it is; or an inability for a parent to get away from work or leave the home to accompany their child may be stopping the consent process, too.

There are also many justifiable reasons why someone might try to take a minor to a different state, including needing a later gestation procedure, that state’s clinic being closer or less busy, even fear of being recognized at a local provider. Yet all of these could potentially get an adult in trouble if CIANA passes and becomes law. Proposals in Texas of jailing someone who drives a person to an abortion also indicate that states will have no issue prosecuting if they find someone in violation of such laws.

So will Portman’s bill move ahead? It definitely has a much better shot at becoming law than at any other time in its history. The House and the Senate are under GOP control and its difficult to imagine Senate Democrats filibustering a “child protection” bill, even if it doesn’t in any way actually “protect children”. Meanwhile, the only promises President Donald Trump has consistently fulfilled since his inauguration have been to pander to the anti-abortion crowd.

In other words, it really might be a good time to gather some bail money for Grandma, because she very well may need it.