April 7, 2017

Parental rights bill for minors seeking abortion advances

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

A bill to strengthen parental rights for minors seeking an abortion passed a House panel by an 8-4 vote on March 28, and moved to the full House for further consideration.

Senate Bill 404, authored by Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, would require parents to verify their identity for a minor child of theirs seeking an abortion. The measure aims to prevent adults who are not a minor’s parent from posing as the minor’s parent, and would prohibit a person from aiding or assisting a minor who is pregnant in obtaining an abortion without parental consent.

Parents could collect damages against an adult who either posed as the minor child’s parent to obtain an abortion, or aided or assisted the minor in obtaining an abortion. The legislation also increases the age for reporting child abuse from 14 to 16 years of age.

“This is a bill about strengthening parental rights. This is not a bill about women seeking abortion. It’s about children seeking abortions, and the right of her parents to participate in that decision,” said Houchin. “This is about parental rights, not women’s rights. It strengthens parental rights that already exist.”

Current law requires parental consent before a minor child may receive an abortion. However, there is no requirement that the person claiming to be the parent or guardian provide proof of identity. “We can’t just assume the person claiming to be the parent is not a friend or other family member who is taking the child without the parent’s knowledge,” Houchin said.

The senator said parents have to be present or give permission for a minor to get a tattoo or ears pierced, but under current law, there is no proof required for parents when their child seeks an abortion. “We are requiring parental consent by proof of identity,” said Houchin.

Current law allows minors to obtain an abortion without parental consent through a legal procedure called a judicial bypass. It allows a judge to determine if a minor is mature enough to have an abortion without parental consent.

When asked by a House panel member how many minors seek a judicial bypass annually in Indiana, Judge Marilyn Moores, presiding judge of the Marion County Juvenile Courts who handles judicial bypasses, said that annually only a handful of minors—not more than 10—seek a judicial bypass for abortion.

Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC), who serves as the public policy spokesperson for the bishops in Indiana, said human life, created in the image and likeness of God, deserves respect.

“Senate Bill 404 provides a clarification regarding parental notification and protection of a minor seeking an abortion, and assures notification to the proper authorities,” said Tebbe. “It allows minors to be protected against sexual predators and abuse by persons who may pose as a parent of a minor so the minor can get an abortion.

“Parents have the right and responsibility to be involved in the decisions of their children’s life and life-altering decisions,” continued Tebbe. “It will be the parent who assists the child in the aftermath of an abortion physically, emotionally and spiritually. Senate Bill 404 restores a parent’s rightful position.”

According to Indiana Right to Life, a pro-life advocacy organization, at least 15 other states have passed legislation similar to Senate Bill 404 as part of their state’s parental consent law requiring parental verification for a minor seeking an abortion.

Rep. Peggy Mayfield, R-Martinsville, the House sponsor of the bill, offered an amendment before the House Public Policy Committee which was adopted as part of the bill. Mayfield’s amendment removed a controversial provision requiring parental notification prior to the hearing for a judicial bypass. It also added that parental consent of a minor would require the parent to accompany the minor in person to the abortion facility, and show proof of identity. The new language also delineates two types of licensing: one for surgical abortion centers, and another for chemical abortion providers. Current law provides only one type of licensing, which all abortion providers must obtain.

In the final weeks of the Indiana General Assembly, lawmakers will move into the conference committee phase to complete negotiations on legislation which advanced in both houses, but passed in different versions. If a conference committee is able to reach a consensus, the conference committee report must be voted on a final time by the House and Senate before it could become law. Tebbe said Senate Bill 404 is likely to move to four-member conference committee, where the House and Senate versions of the bill will be reconciled.

The Indiana General Assembly must adjourn by its April 29 deadline. However, Tebbe said lawmakers have indicated they plan to adjourn a week earlier than the deadline.

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion. The ICC provides legislative updates and other public policy resources on its Web page at www.indianacc.org.)

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