is Good for Parents and Teens
by Catherine Deeds
June 12, 1998
The suffering began three years ago for Mrs. Joyce Farley and her daughter. Mrs. Farley recently recounted for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that she became worried on the morning of August 31, 1995, when she found a note from her daughter Crystal and discovered that she was missing from school. Mrs. Farley contacted state police, who helped locate Crystal about 30 miles from home. The mother's shock was compounded when she learned that Crystal had undergone an incomplete abortion and needed medical treatment. Crystal also suffered serious psychological and physical post-abortion complications. Joyce Farley had not even known that her daughter was pregnant.
She quickly pieced together the rest of the distressing puzzle. Several months earlier, unknown to Mrs. Farley, her 12-year-old daughter was given alcohol and date-raped by Michael Kilmer, an 18-year-old man whom Mrs. Farley had been trying to keep away from her daughter. Kilmer and his stepmother, Rosa Marie Hartford, conspired to cover up his crime and the pregnancy by taking Farley's daughter from Pennsylvania to New York state without her knowledge or consent, and paying to have Crystal's unborn child -- Mrs. Farley's grandchild -- aborted. New York has no parental involvement law regarding abortion.
Kilmer was convicted on two counts of statutory rape for having sex with his then-12-year-old victim. Rosa Hartford was later convicted of interference with the custody of children and sentenced to one year probation, 150 hours of community service and a $500 fine. At Mrs. Hartford's criminal trial, however, defense lawyers argued that Hartford was protected by Roe v. Wade, and that Roe's constitutional abortion right allows a rapist's stepmother to transport the under-age victim across state lines to obtain an abortion without parental involvement.
A new federal bill, the Child Custody Protection Act (S. 1645/H.R. 3682), sponsored by Senator Spencer Abraham (R-MI) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), has been introduced to ensure that what happened to Mrs. Farley will never happen to other parents. The legislation makes it a federal crime for a non-parent to transport a minor girl across state lines to evade her home state's parental involvement law and obtain an abortion.
Defense attorneys for Hartford argued that her actions were like those of "thousands of adults who each year aid young women in exercising their constitutional right to an abortion." Most of those "adults" are the boyfriends of a minor girl. Although accurate statistics about interstate activity are not available, one study found that boyfriends accompany minors for their abortions 58% of the time, in cases where neither parent knew about the pregnancy or abortion. ("Parental Involvement in Minors' Abortion Decisions," by Stanley K. Henshaw and Kathryn Kost, Family Planning Perspectives, September/October 1992, page 205.)
Crystal's home state of Pennsylvania requires the consent of one parent, or a court ruling, before a minor girl may obtain an abortion. Twenty-two other states have decided, consistent with Supreme Court doctrine, that parental involvement is critical and necessary before a vulnerable teenager makes a life-changing decision to abort her unborn child. Even the Supreme Court has recognized that abortions may present increased risks for teenage girls.
The Child Custody Protection Act does not establish a nationwide parental notification or consent requirement for states that have not enacted a requirement of their own. But it should help enforce parental rights laws, in states where these common-sense laws are being undermined by third parties who have their own interests -- not the interests of the minor girls -- uppermost in their minds.
Opponents of the Child Custody Protection Act have wrongly characterized the interstate transportation of minors for secret abortions in terms of caring friends or in-laws, helping a young woman who is afraid to talk with her parents to obtain a "safe" abortion instead of a dangerous "back-alley" abortion. On the contrary, the bill does not preclude a friend or relative from offering loving assistance, counseling or other signs of friendship. But no friend or distant relative can usurp the sacred parent-child relationship. Parents alone have the primary responsibility to raise and educate their children, particularly in sensitive areas involving medical care, sexuality and the protection of human life.
The Child Custody Protection Act will help protect these fundamental parental rights, and protect vulnerable pregnant teens from strangers and other adults who think a secret abortion is in their best interest. It's simply not their decision to make.
Cathy Deeds is a public policy analyst in the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.