Texas isn’t the Only Place where a Woman’s Right to a Safe and Legal Abortion is Under Attack

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“Aborted Justice,” an OtherWords.org cartoon by Khalil Bendib, Creative Commons License CC BY-ND 3.0

 

Right here in in Illinois, women’s lives and safety are being sacrificed for the election-minded politicians of the Land of Lincoln. In Illinois, young women and girls’ safety is at risk under the Parental Notice Act.

The Parental Notice of Abortion Act of 1995 (750 ILCS 70/1, et seq) was passed in 1995 by the Illinois legislature and signed into law by the governor, but because of various court challenges to its constitutionality, the law did not go into effect until 2013.

But since 2013, young women have faced serious threats to their mental and physical health and safety because of the requirements of the Parental Notice Act.

The law prohibits an abortion from being performed on a minor unless an adult family member of the minor has been given at least 48 hours actual notice of the intent to perform the abortion. An exception allowing a judicial waiver of notice is available, but to get a judicial waiver, a minor (i.e., a young woman under the age of 18) must go to the circuit court and request that the judge grant her a waiver so she does not have to tell an adult member of her family that she wants to get an abortion.. A guardian ad litem is appointed and interviews the young woman to be able to provide a recommendation to the judge as to whether or not the guardian ad litem believes that she is “sufficiently mature and well enough informed to decide intelligently whether to have an abortion,” or that notification to an adult family member of the minor’s intent to get an abortion is not “in the best interests of the minor” (750 ILCS 70/25).

Of course, when you are 16 or 17 years old, how easy is it to get out of school to go to the courthouse for a hearing? How easy is it to get to the courthouse—especially if you live in a small town 30 miles away from the courthouse—which is only open from 8:30 in the morning until 4:30 in the afternoon Monday through Friday, and has no weekend or evening hours.

And then there is the question of privacy. The statute allows the minor applying for a judicial bypass to use a pseudonym in the petition. Of course, if your friends’ or classmates’ fathers or mothers are in the courthouse and ask you what you are doing there, the opportunity to be anonymous in a small county courthouse where everyone knows everyone is illusory at best.

As a trial attorney who appears almost daily in courthouses around east-central Illinois, I know there is no anonymity in the Champaign County Courthouse—let alone in the smaller courthouses in surrounding communities. A young woman would not be able to go to court to request a judicial bypass without the rest of the courthouse—the clerks’ office, the sheriff’s deputies in charge of security, and the judge’s staff—watching, knowing, and talking about what is going on. It is and will continue to be nothing but a show, where the young woman—likely promised anonymity in the pleadings—receives anything but.

My real fear as a mother is that if a young woman gets pregnant, she won’t tell her parents, even though the law requires it, because she will be too ashamed—of what she did or what got done to her; because she thinks it was “her fault”—and believes that her parents will be ashamed of her. What likely already happens under the Parental Notice Act is that young women resort to other alternatives when they feel they cannot tell a parent that they want to have an abortion: they cause self-harm, commit suicide, or try to conduct their own abortion—surely their must be a YouTube video on it!

The Catholic Archdiocese or other religious “leaders” claim that the Parental Notice Act has saved so many lives. I have no doubt it has ruined so many. How many young women have killed themselves, or tried to, once they found out they were pregnant—especially by a family member?

Legislators can’t legislate good relationships. But they can prevent self-harm by vulnerable girls and young women.

Alhough there is an exception in the statute that allows the young woman to not have to give notice to an adult family member or to get permission from a judge if the young woman tells a doctor she has been raped by an adult family member, this may also trigger a requirement that the physican inform the police of that disclosure (750 ILCS 70/20).

Interestingly, the current law in Illinois allows a pregnant minor to make every other decision related to pregnancy: whether to carry the pregnancy to term, whether to agree to an adoption, and whether to receive complex medical care—all without having to notify an adult family member or ask a judge for permission.

And while the law requires notice—rather than consent—it is still very harmful to young women faced with an unintended pregnancy. Young women who have safe and trusting relationships with their parents will talk to them voluntarily about the decision to have an abortion. But for the young women who have serious concerns about physical or emotional abuse, being kicked out of their home, or being forced to continue the pregnancy against their will, this law puts them in harmful situations. You cannot legislate healthy family relationships. And it is exactly this kind of mandated disclosures that can and do cause many young women to run away, commit suicide, or make other tragic decisions because they do not feel they can share the fact that they want an abortion with a parent.

That is why so many medical organizations concerned with the health and safety of young women are working to repeal the law, including The American Medical Association; The Academy of Pediatrics; The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; the Society for Adolescent Medicine; and the American Public Health Association. Additionally, organizations concerned with the individual rights of women, including the Illinois American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Illinois National Organization for Women (NOW) are also leading the fight to repeal this dangerous law. The issue will be up for a vote during the Illinois legislature’s veto session this Fall.

The legislation that would repeal this harmful law is Senate Bill 2190. Let’s hope our legislators put health and safety in front of politics this fall, and vote to protect young women’s lives by passing Senate Bill 2190.

Editors’ Note: since this article was written the bill to repeal the Parental Notice Act has been passed by the legislature and signed by the governor.

Ruth Wyman has been an attorney in Champaign County since 2004, focusing her practice on family law and criminal defense work.

 

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