New bill would strengthen parental consent by preventing out-of-state abortions for minors

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PROVIDENCE — Legislators in the Rhode Island State House are considering a bill that would strengthen the state’s parental consent laws regarding abortion by making it a felony to transport or otherwise aid a minor in traveling across state lines to receive an abortion without the consent of a parent.

Current Rhode Island law requires the consent of a parent or guardian before a woman under the age of 18 can receive an abortion. In certain cases, a family court judge can waive this requirement if the judge determines this to be in the best interest of the woman.

According to the state’s pro-life advocates, parental consent laws protect the health of minors and maintain parental rights and awareness regarding their children’s medical treatment.

“Personally, as a parent and a grandparent, protecting parental rights is of great concern to me,” said Carol Owens, coordinator of the diocesan Office of Life and Family. “Parenting itself can be challenging enough without removing their rights. In the final analysis, lessening parental control plays into the hands of the very lucrative business of Planned Parenthood.”

In neighboring Connecticut, which has fewer regulations on abortion than Rhode Island, a minor can receive an abortion without the consent or notification of a parent, including those who reside in states that require parental consent. According to data compiled by the Connecticut Catholic Conference, between 2004 and 2016, 349 abortions were performed in Connecticut on minors from Rhode Island. Another 459 abortions were performed on minors from Massachusetts, which also has a parental consent requirement.

“I was surprised at the number, because we’re talking about an average of 30 or more per year,” said Barth Bracy, executive director of Rhode Island Right to Life. “So we’re talking about two or three a month on average, and it was kind of surprising that it’s that easy for our parental consent law to be circumvented.”

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Camille Vella-Wilkinson (D-Warwick) in the House and Senator Elizabeth Crowley (D-Central Falls, Pawtucket) in the Senate, would prevent individuals from bypassing Rhode Island law by making it illegal to transport or otherwise aid a minor in traveling across state lines to receive an abortion without a parent’s consent. According to the bill’s proponents, of particular concern were situations where a partner over the age of 18 or other adult might take it upon themselves to assist a young woman in receiving an abortion without her parents’ knowledge.

“I don’t want to see Rhode Island law bypassed by allowing a boyfriend or somebody other than a parent to have the ability to know whether a child needs an abortion or not,” said Crowley. “The state says that abortions cannot be performed on minors, period, without the consent of the parent. Taking them across the lines certainly flies in the face of the intent of the law in Rhode Island.”

Father Bernard Healey, executive director of the Rhode Island Catholic Conference, also expressed concern about the ease with which the state’s parental consent requirements can be avoided.

“I’m grateful to Sen. Crowley and Rep. Vella-Wilkinson for sponsoring this important legislation,” he said during a phone interview with Rhode Island Catholic. “It’s troubling to discover that parental consent laws are being circumvented and family rights are being usurped by duplicitous organizations that promote abortion on demand. We hope this bill will stop this troubling practice and that parental consent laws — as they’ve existed in Rhode Island — will not be usurped. The Rhode Island Catholic Conference fully supports this legislation.”

According to Michael Culhane, executive director of the Connecticut Catholic Conference, the legislation could potentially reduce the number of individuals traveling to Connecticut to receive an abortion. In addition to minors traveling from Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New York, all of which have parental consent or notification requirements, a large number of in-state minors receive abortions every year in Connecticut, along with individuals of unknown age due to a lack of enforcement of age reporting requirements.

“There are 1,000 plus abortions in Connecticut that would not have been performed but for the lack of parental notification in Connecticut,” he said. “Planned Parenthood does not work for free, so these abortions performed on minors – somebody pays for them.”

While parental consent or notification requirements would place Connecticut more in line with the regulations of neighboring states, Culhane said he does not anticipate these measures being approved by the state legislature any time soon. As an example of the political influence of pro-abortion supporters in the state, he mentioned previous efforts to require counseling for 16- and 17-year-olds considering abortion, which were met with strong opposition and ultimately defeated in the state legislature.

“The pushback I received from Planned Parenthood and NARAL was absolutely very interesting. It was an eye opener for me in terms of the clout that Planned Parenthood has in Connecticut,” he said.

According to Bracy, the Rhode Island legislation will most likely receive a hearing before the House and Senate Judiciary Committees in mid to late-April, along with legislation intended to illegalize partial-birth and dismemberment abortions. Rhode Island Right to Life is also monitoring a bill sponsored by pro-choice lawmakers, the Reproductive Health Care Act, that would repeal all state laws regulating abortion prior to fetal viability. Bracy encouraged pro-life advocates to continue to watch the bills’ progress and make their views known to their elected officials.

“We’re anticipating it’s going to be a fight right up until the end of the session,” he said. “We just want everybody to be vigilant because these things can turn on a dime and they [abortion supporters] are committed.”