WASHINGTON -- The House passed a bill yesterday that would make it illegal to dodge parental-consent laws by taking minors across state lines for abortions, the latest effort to chip away at abortion rights after Republican gains in the November elections.
By a vote of 270 to 157, the House sent the bill to the Senate, where the policy has new momentum as an item on the Republicans' top 10 list of legislative priorities.
Reflecting rising public support for requiring parents' involvement in their pregnant daughters' decisions, the bill would impose fines, jail time, or both on adults and doctors involved in most cases where minors were taken out of state to get abortions.
In a statement, President Bush praised the House for passing the measure. ''The parents of pregnant minors can provide counsel, guidance, and support to their children and should be involved in these decisions," he said. ''I urge the Senate to pass this important legislation and help continue to build a culture of life in America."
This was the third time since 1998 the House has approved such a measure sponsored by Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican of Florida. The Senate has never taken it up and no vote has been set, but majority leader Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee, expects to bring up a similar measure this summer, according to spokeswoman Amy Call.
In another sign of the measure's new support, Representative William Clay, Democrat of Missouri, who staunchly favors abortion rights and voted against the measure in the past, voted for it yesterday. Clay said he switched after an outpouring of support for the bill from constituents in his St. Louis district. ''This bill simply says that a parent has a right to know if their child is having surgery," he said.
Voting for it were 216 Republicans and 54 Democrats. Voting against it were 145 Democrats, 11 Republicans, and 1 Independent. If passed by the Senate and signed by the president, the policy would represent the fifth measure since Bush took office in 2001 aimed at reducing the number of abortions.
Senate abortion opponents prevailed last month in preventing Democrats from restricting the rights of abortion clinic protesters in bankruptcy court.
Tempers flared in the House even before the emotional floor debate. Democrats complained that their efforts to soften the bill, for example, by exempting from prosecution adult siblings and grandparents who help pregnant minors, were described in the GOP-authored committee report as efforts to protect ''sexual predators." Judiciary Committee chairman James Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, who authored the panel's report, defended its language, saying the Democratic amendments would not have specifically excluded child molesters from protections.
The measure does provide certain exceptions to a mandatory waiting period and punishments, such as when the abortion would save the life of the mother. Also excepted are cases in which physicians are presented with documentation showing that a court in the minor's home state waived parental notification requirements. In addition, the bill makes an exception for any minor who has signed a written statement saying that she is a victim of sexual abuse by a parent and can back it up with documentation of having reported that abuse to a state authority.