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Abortion Debate: ACLU, Human Rights Watch want state lawmakers to repeal parental notification law

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Roughly 1,000 minors in Illinois have abortions each year, according to research from a human rights firm. The new report shows most teens involve a parent or guardian in that decision. However, some young people don’t want close adults to know. Illinois Democrats hope to repeal the Parental Notice of Abortion Act.

Advocates say no one should force minors to tell unsupportive or abusive adults about their decision to have an abortion. Democrats tried to make this change in 2019. Yet, the proposal never made it to the floor since most of the attention went to the Reproductive Health Act during that spring session.

The law requires medical professionals to notify a parent or guardian at least 48 hours before moving forward with an abortion procedure. A senior researcher for Human Rights Watch says most minors voluntarily involve a parent or trusted adult in their abortion decision even if a law doesn’t require it. Margaret Wurth explained a subset of young people who choose not to tell their family usually have serious reasons.

“Most often, according to the data presented in our report, young people fear being forced to continue a pregnancy against their own will or being kicked out of the home or cut off financially,” Wurth said.

If young people can’t notify a trusted adult, they can appear before a judge to ask for approval for abortion through a process called judicial bypass. Wurth explained that this process disproportionately impacts Black, indigenous, and other young people of color.

“For them, going to court, going to a place often associated with criminal legal proceedings, and in the context of systemic racism, can be especially harmful,” Wurth said.

Controlling their future and body

Attorney Emily Werth says the ACLU of Illinois has helped 500 people through the judicial bypass process since the law took effect in 2013. Werth says the process creates unnecessary fear and anxiety for minors.

“A complete stranger essentially holds the young person’s fate in his or her hands and has control over the young person’s ability to make this consequential decision about their future and their body,” Werth said.

Sen. Elgie Sims (D-Chicago) and Rep. Anna Moeller (D-Elgin) filed bills to repeal the law in February. Senate Bill 2190 and House Bill 1797 already have significant Democratic support. In fact, Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch (D-Hillside) signed on as a Chief Co-Sponsor of Moeller’s proposal.

House Republican Avery Bourne has a consistent voting record against abortion legislation. The Morrisonville native says most states have a parental notification law to provide a layer of protection for young women. Bourne stressed the Illinois law doesn’t require consent.

“It’s just notifying them that this is happening and allowing them to have that conversation to maybe stop that abortion from happening,” Bourne added.

Illinois Right to Life also believes the notification measure is commonsense law that transcends the abortion issue. Executive Director Amy Gehrke says repealing the statute would “completely usurp” rights of parents who want to be apart of their daughters’ decisions. She feels it could also protect human traffickers or sexual predators who use abortions to cover up their own crimes.

“Not all families are perfect and, with this in mind, the law allows for a judicial bypass. The reality is, however, that the vast majority of parents love their children and want what’s best for them,” Gehrke stated. “Repealing parental notification would harm the relationship between parent and child and prevent parents from knowing their daughters might be in danger.”

What works best for each patient?

Dr. Rebecca Commito says decisions about continuing pregnancy or inducing abortion are never made lightly. The OB-GYN explained her young patients spend considerable time thinking about their unique situations and what works best for them.

“This centers the social, emotional, and physical safety of young people within our community who are experts at when and to whom it is appropriate to disclose their decisions about inducing abortion,” Commito said.

Bourne noted several Democrats voted against the Reproductive Health Act in 2019. Now, she feels many will join Republicans to vote against repealing the parental notice law.

“This is not a partisan issue,” Bourne stressed. “We have people on both sides of the aisle who are pro-life and vote for pro-life policies. So, I look forward to working with them to help defeat this bill.”

Still, retired judge Susan Fox Gilles says it’s past time for a change. Fox Gilles said she saw many well-informed and mature women appearing in her courtroom.

“They were able to give me reasons why they felt it was imperative that they have an abortion. By coming into court, it was a risky thing,” Gilles explained. “In Cook County, it was hard to get there. The bypass process, in my opinion, was just another stumbling block for these women to go through.”

The House version of this bill awaits a hearing in the Human Services Committee. Meanwhile, the Senate measure still needs to move out of assignments.

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Mike Miletich

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