Recent Op-Eds

For parents, it's always a challenge to know what is going on in the lives of our children. There are rules, laws and guidelines designed to help parents keep their children safe and guide them in their decision-making so they make responsible, healthy choices.

They range from labels on CDs with explicit lyrics and the rating system for movies, -to parental consent forms for a student to run on the track team, go on a field trip or get an aspirin from the school nurse.

The U.S. Senate recently voted to add another important tool to help parents in monitoring decisions that can have a major long-term impact on their teens' psychological and emotional well-being. This measure, the Child Custody Protection Act (S. 403), would make it a federal offense to transport a minor across a state line for an abortion if it goes against a state's existing parental involvement law. I cosponsored and voted for this bill, and it passed the Senate by a vote of 65 to 34.

Currently, more than 35 states, including South Dakota, have laws requiring minor daughters to gain consent or at least notify their parents before receiving abortions. These laws are common-sense measures that recognize the irreplaceable role that parents play in the lives and welfare of their minor children.

This bill does not infringe on states' rights; it merely gives teeth to existing state laws. The legislation prosecutes those who take minors across state lines in an effort to evade parental involvement laws. It would make it illegal for a minor to be transported from South Dakota across state lines for the purpose of obtaining an abortion without a parental notification or judicial bypass.

As the Act helps keep parents involved in the medical decisions of their children, it also helps them keep their daughters out of inappropriate or predatory relationships. The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Adolescence estimates that almost two-thirds of adolescent mothers have partners over the age of 20. In 58 percent of the cases where a daughter does not notify her parents of the pregnancy, her boyfriend is the one who accompanies her for the abortion. There also have been circumstances when a child molester has secretly taken a minor girl to have an abortion in order to hide his crime. This Act could help expose that abuse.

In states that do not have parental notification laws, nearly 40 percent of minors keep their pregnancies secret. Since abortion is a major surgical operation, parents need to know if their daughters undergo an abortion so they will be able to help them with any potential physical or mental complications that can result.

The Child Custody Protection Act would substantially cut down on the number of minors who obtain abortions. Studies show that parental involvement laws decrease abortions among minors by 8-10 percent. By enforcing these laws, this legislation will likely magnify that effect, since minors often cross state lines to go around their home states' laws.

This common-sense legislation would protect the state of South Dakota's right to enforce its parental notification law, protect young women from being pressured into potentially harmful situations, and protect parents' rights to be involved in decisions that can have serious consequences on their children's lives.

When you consider that children can't even get an aspirin from the school nurse without permission from their parents, it is hard to imagine that as federal law stands, a pregnant teen could be taken to another state to undergo a major surgery without her mother or father ever being notified. I'm hopeful the President will sign the Child Custody Protection Act soon to ensure a safer, more responsible decision-making process for teenagers and their parents.