As a doctor, I can tell you why Illinois should revoke the Parental Notice of Abortion Act
“I worry about all the young women who face violence at home or homelessness in the streets, those who have become mothers against their will.”
As an abortion provider, I regularly care for adolescents seeking to end a pregnancy. The teenagers I see are smart, independent and resourceful young women. They know what they want — education, opportunities and a future. They know what they do not want at that point in their lives — a baby.
Most of the young women in my practice involve a parent or trusted adult in their abortion decision. And the younger the teen, the more likely she is to involve an adult. These facts are true in my office and throughout Illinois. Those who do not involve an adult do so with good reason — often because they are survivors of abuse or neglect. Some fear for their safety or the loss of shelter and food if their parents discover their pregnancy or their abortion decision. Others believe they will be forced to continue a pregnancy they did not plan and do not want.
For these adolescents, the Illinois Parental Notice of Abortion Act is a dangerous law that puts them and their personal decisions at risk. Those who cannot inform a parent, step parent, grandparent or guardian are forced to obtain a judicial bypass, to stand before a judge, prove their maturity and justify their abortion decision.
My adolescent patients who choose to seek a judicial bypass are not only strong, independent and resourceful, but above all brave.
I cared for a teen who feared she would be the victim of an honor killing at the hands of religious family members for engaging in premarital sex. I cared for a teen who took two buses and a train from the suburbs to go to court. She feared she would be kicked out of the house if her parents knew she was pregnant. I cared for a teen being raised by a strict single father who feared an even more strained relationship if her pregnancy were revealed.
These young women went through the complex judicial bypass process to have an abortion without notifying a parent or guardian. These young women were able to navigate the system with grace and poise. But they shouldn’t have to.
When I care for adolescents who have been to court, I tell them how brave they are, how proud they should be of their strength and perseverance. But these are not the young women I worry about, the young women who keep me up at night. I worry about all those who are unable to come forward because of the parental notice requirement. I worry about all the young women who never get to court, those who face violence at home or homelessness in the streets, those that have become mothers against their will. We owe our young people so much more. In fact, abortion is their right.
And consider the rights pregnant and parenting teenagers have at any age. They have the right to consent for any surgical procedure other than abortion — a cesarean section, an appendectomy or open heart surgery for a newborn son or daughter. Why, then, does abortion require a higher level of parental involvement? If Illinois teens are mature enough to make other medical decisions for themselves and their children, the parental notice requirement serves only to limit the bodily autonomy of Illinois teens.
I am a doctor, but I am also the mother of two teenage daughters. Of course I want my daughters to come to me if they face an unintended and undesired pregnancy. But my children are not in danger and would not be in danger if they were pregnant and seeking abortion. When thinking about the cruelty of this law, we must think beyond our own children and consider those in jeopardy.
We must repeal Illinois’ dangerous Parental Notice of Abortion.
Allison Cowett, MD MPH, is an obstetrician-gynecologist who specializes in abortion and contraception in Chicago. She is medical director of Family Planning Associates Medical Group, one of the largest independent abortion facilities in the country.
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