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Child Custody Act Doesn't Protect
Published on Monday, July 31, 2006 by the Miami Herald
Child Custody Act Doesn't Protect
New Law Means Well But Hurts Young Women

In passing the Child Custody Protection Act, the Senate meant to do good, but does harm instead. It compromised not only personal choice, but also personal safety. The bill makes it a federal crime to help an under-age girl cross state lines to avoid parental notification laws for an abortion. The bill's blanket requirement of parental consent wrongly assumes that all parents are worthy advisors. They are not. When the House and Senate negotiate a final version of the bill, they should rethink this approach to helping conflicted young women.

Parental counsel

The decision to get an abortion is stressful and traumatic, particularly for a minor. The intent of the bill, to encourage parental counsel when teens face an unintended pregnancy, is good policy and good common sense. Most minors, thankfully, already turn to their parents for assistance when faced with such a life-changing decision.

But this bill fails to recognize that, sadly, some parents are not always a positive presence in a minor's life. It attacks those who don't have parental counsel as an option. Nearly one-third of the young women who do not involve their parents in the decision to get an abortion would face serious consequences if they did, such as violence or being forced to leave home, according to the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association. The bill ultimately could disproportionately affect these alienated girls who already do not have counselors from which to choose. Oftentimes, they are the victims of incest or abuse.

A more helpful, thoughtful approach would encourage some form of adult advice prior to an abortion, regardless of the relationship of the adult to the young girl.

In the best circumstances, someone should always help young girls weigh their options, regardless of their relationship. But this bill does not allow for this and, in fact, penalizes extended family or friends who try to assist in situations where parents have failed.

Provide counseling

Congress should focus on preventing or helping teens through their pregnancies -- not punishing them. Instead of continuing to split hairs over the issues of personal liberty and privacy surrounding abortion, Congress should consider funding a national family-planning program or strengthening social-welfare networks. Other options would be to improve school counseling systems and provide scientifically correct and current information in sexual-education programs.

Whatever the plan, we hope that it helps all under-age girls understand the obstacles they face, instead of creating more hurdles for them.

© 2006 Miami Herald Media Co.


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