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Gary Younge
Whittling away abortion rights

The Senate's decision on Tuesday to criminalise young women who go to another state to have an abortion without their parents' consent marks not only another legislative victory for anti-choice advocates but also illustrates their strategic aim. The new law could land those who seek to help them find an abortion without their parents' consent- say a pastor or grandparent - with up to a year in prison.

Given the righteous force with which they rail against abortion rights, the strategy that has been adopted to combat America's abortion laws is relatively pragmatic if not particularly subtle. Since they know that there would be a political outcry if Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling legalising abortion, were overturned. Polling shows that a significant majority of Americans are in favour of abortion laws as they stand. True, the Supreme Court is supposed to be above political considerations but its new conservative majority could overturn Roe at the first opportunity.

But rather than risk an entire strategy on the throw of those dice the Right has instead to decided to whittle away at women's freedoms gradually, hoping to cohere a conservative consensus around the restriction of a particular aspect of abortion, both in the courts and in the public in general.

So it was with Tuesday's Senate vote, which follows a Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act passed by the House in April. There are 22 states that only allow minors (pdf) to terminate pregnancies with parental consent; another 12 demand that the minors notify their parents. Most research suggests that the vast majority of minors do consult with their parents before they have a termination. Those who don't often fear physical violence, being thrown out of the house or may be victims of incest. But teenagers don't vote, it's an election year and who is going to risk their seat against a carefully crafted moral panic like teen pregnancy.

As Ann points out in her excellent post at, if the right really wanted to reduce the number of teen pregnancies they might start by pushing for decent sex education rather than banging the abstinence drum. Instead all this will do is criminalise young women in a vulnerable state and those who seek to help them.

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