Abortion lawsuit bill makes way through legislature

Friday, March 7, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Legislation that would let Missouri parents sue anyone who enables a minor daughter to have an abortion without their consent is making its way through the Missouri Legislature.

After several hours of debate over three days that produced an important compromise, the Senate gave the bill initial approval on a voice vote Thursday. Final approval would send the measure to the House, which is considering a similar bill.

Under the Senate measure, anyone who helped a girl 17 or younger obtain an abortion without parental consent could be sued by her parents. A boyfriend or school counselor, for example, could be liable for providing money or transportation.

The Senate amended the bill to limit the damages to $1,000. Originally, the bill provided no cap on the civil penalty and provided for a judge to award punitive damages and attorney's fees to the winner.

A 1979 state law permits abortion for a minor only with the consent of at least one parent or guardian, a court's consent or a court order certifying that the girl is mature enough to make her own decision. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law in 1983.

But some Missouri teenagers skirt the law by getting abortions in Illinois, which does not require parental consent.

Rep. John Loudon said the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, Ill., advertises in phone books in Jefferson City and the St. Louis area that it provides abortion services without parental consent.

All five states bordering Illinois have parental consent requirements. Loudon said about 400 Missouri teenagers obtain abortions in Illinois annually.

Illinois lawmakers have debated the issue of parental consent for abortions for several years but have failed to pass the legislation.

Loudon said minor girls sometimes choose abortion because they are too afraid or embarrassed to tell their parents about an unwanted pregnancy.

"We're recognizing the sanctity of the parent-child relationship," Loudon said. "The more we can do to keep families working together and sorting these things out in the privacy of their living room, it's better for the mental and emotional w ell-being of everybody."

Sen. Ken Jacob, a longtime supporter of abortion rights, said the bill was unconstitutional because it challenges another state's sovereignty and quashes a business' ability to freely advertise.

"We have to recognize the sovereignty of other states. You can't stop people from traveling across state lines for any reason," said Jacob, D-Columbia. "What you have here is something that a judge will say can't be done."

Jacob also said that the $1,000 limit on civil penalties was hypocritical because the legislation was unlikely to deter a minor from going to Illinois for an abortion.

"Supporters of this bill are more interested in credit and appealing to their constituencies than doing anything about this issue," Jacob said.

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Abortion bill is SB34.

On the Net:

Missouri Legislature: http://www.moga.state.mo.us

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