Nancy Keenan

Leaving Pregnant Teens In the Lurch

Today the Senate will vote on a dangerous and divisive proposal backed by Sen. Bill Frist that would do nothing to protect our young people or promote conversation between teens and their parents. Known as the Child Custody Protection Act , the bill would prohibit anyone other than a parent -- including a grandparent, aunt, adult sibling, or member of the clergy -- from accompanying a young woman across state lines for an abortion if the home state's parental-involvement law has not been met.

We all agree that teenage girls in trouble should turn to their parents for guidance, and thankfully, most already do. But CCPA would not improve a family situation that is already bad. Worse, it would put girls who, for whatever reason, can't talk to their parents about tough issues like sex into serious danger. In that case, we should urge a teenager to turn to another responsible adult -- like a grandmother or clergy member -- not isolate her.

The tragic story of 13-year-old Spring Adams in Idaho illustrates how CCPA could jeopardize young women's safety. Spring was shot to death by her father after he learned she was planning to terminate a pregnancy caused by his incest. If CCPA passes, trusted, caring and responsible adults would be faced with the threat of prosecution for responding to a young woman like Spring who approaches them because she fears involving her parent in her request for an abortion.

In one study, 93 percent of minors who did not involve a parent in their decision to obtain an abortion were still accompanied by someone to the doctor's office. Although legal abortion is very safe, it is typically advisable that any kind of medical patient have accompaniment, even for minor surgery. But the CCPA would force some minors to drive themselves to out-of-state clinics, without the help of trusted adults or friends.

This, along with concerns for doctor-patient confidentiality, is precisely why leading medical organizations, including the American Medical Association, advise against parental-involvement mandates.

Tuesday's vote on CCPA also begs the question of congressional priorities. If Congress is serious about the issue of abortion among young people, it should drop divisive anti-choice bills like CCPA and instead make a worthwhile investment in programs that prevent teen pregnancy in the first place.

The United States, where 866,000 teenagers become pregnant each year, has the highest rates of teen pregnancy and teen births in the Western industrialized world.

Sens. Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg, both Democrats from New Jersey, are taking a more responsible approach to this challenge. Their proposal would fund teen-pregnancy-prevention programs in schools and community groups, pilot programs to teach young people about the serious responsibilities that come with parenthood, and programs that help parents talk to their kids about tough topics like sex.

Unfortunately, Frist and his anti-choice allies would rather play politics than find solutions. CCPA, like the gay-marriage ban, has long been on the right wing's to-do list. Frist's need to pacify his increasingly demoralized far-right base before the November elections -- not his concern for teen safety -- is the real reason CCPA is on the Senate floor.

While many constructive solutions to the problem of teen pregnancy do exist, CCPA isn't among them. Congress should fund programs that provide honest, realistic sex education, teach young people about the serious responsibilities that accompany parenthood, help parents talk to their children about difficult subjects like sex, and stop slashing budgets for after-school programs that keep kids out of trouble and on the road to success.

Prevention -- not punishment -- is the better path for Sen. Frist and the Senate to take.

Anti-Choice Legislators Have Gone Too Far

Editor's Note: On March 6, 2006, South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds enacted a statewide abortion ban scheduled to take effect on July 1. In response, Planned Parenthood formed a powerful campaign, Stand Up South Dakota, to collect enough signatures to stop the ban's enforcement by adding it the state ballot in November. They succeeded in temporarily preventing the ban, but still need help to avert it from being passed in the fall.

If the recent June 6 primary is viewed as an early preview of this year's midterm elections, pro-choice Americans have much to celebrate. Not only was choice a positive issue in many of the races, but candidates throughout the country used their pro-choice values of freedom and privacy to cultivate a winning message.

Let's be honest. Anti-choice legislators have gone too far. South Dakota's governor signed a law criminalizing abortion. Louisiana's governor just signed a new ban on abortion. Ohio's legislature held a hearing to debate an abortion ban. And another 11 states have considered or are considering bills that would outlaw abortion in all or most circumstances. But we saw on June 6 that Americans are tired of these divisive attacks on a woman's right to choose.

Take Iowa for example. In Iowa's 1st Congressional District, NARAL Pro-Choice America-endorsed candidate Bruce Braley won a hotly contested primary by using his strong pro-choice message to put his anti-choice opponents on the defensive. In the weeks leading up to the primary, Braley even released a television ad quoting his opponent Rick Dickinson saying "he would do all he could to rescind Roe v. Wade and 'end abortion in this country as we know it.'"

 In Iowa's Democratic primary for governor, Secretary of State Chet Culver's strong stance on choice exposed his opponent Mike Blouin's attempts to dodge the issue.

 According to The New York Times, Chet Culver "made his support for abortion rights a central issue of the campaign, raising doubts about Mr. Blouin's stance."

"A woman's right to choose is under assault, and people in this state are absolutely worried," Culver said. "This has become a very important issue in this state and in the state races around the country."

Blouin--who had co-sponsored a constitutional amendment banning abortion as a member of Congress--tried to defuse his anti-choice record, but he failed to persuade either side.

"Now you have a pro-life pro-choicer," said  David Yepsen, the political columnist for The Des Moines Register. "I don't think either side is happy with him."

In Montana the pro-choice president of the state senate, Jon Tester, won a decisive victory in his party's primary to face embattled incumbent anti-choice Sen. Conrad Burns. In New Jersey, Sen. Robert Menendez's strong record in support of women's freedom and privacy will further strengthen his support from voters in the Garden State.

Why are pro-choice candidates winning? Because they are not only using these egregious bans on abortion to put their opponents on the defense, they are also introducing voters to their commonsense message of increasing access to birth control, including the "morning-after" pill, providing honest, age-appropriate sex education and better family-planning services for those without health insurance.

Meanwhile, anti-choice politicians in Congress and state legislatures are providing voters with multiple reasons to vote for an alternative this November.

Last month, anti-choice House leaders wouldn't even allow a vote on a common-ground amendment to ensure the "morning-after" pill is made available to military women overseas. Reps. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, and Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, both of whom oppose legal abortion, cosponsored the proposal.

And Senate anti-choice leaders are trying to pass legislation that would, among other things, nullify state laws that ensure insurance plans cover birth control in the same way they cover other prescription medication like Viagra. If Congress and the president enact this law, 25 states' laws that protect women's access to birth control could be overridden. Further, legislators in 18 states--Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin--are considering or have considered measures that would allow pharmacies or pharmacists to refuse to fill women's prescriptions for birth control.

Worse yet, in the states with recently passed abortion bans, Louisiana and South Dakota, the same politicians who want to outlaw abortion have repeatedly voted against measures to expand access to emergency contraception.

Here's the dilemma for anti-choice politicians. Not only are they pushing extreme and divisive bans to criminalize abortion, but they're blocking commonsense measures that would prevent unintended pregnancies and reduce the need for abortion. Their actions have exposed their hypocrisy and hostility toward the fundamental values of freedom and privacy. In select races on June 6, voters answered them by electing strong pro-choice candidates.

We will continue to mobilize our network of nearly one million pro-choice activists in all 50 states to work toward similar results in races for Congress and the state legislatures this November.
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