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ACLU, Human Rights Watch urge state lawmakers to repeal abortion notification law, calling it ‘harmful’ to young people

The Parental Notice of Abortion Act, which went into effect in 2013, requires a doctor providing care to a young person under age 18 who is seeking an abortion in the state to notify a designated adult family member — which could be a parent, grandparent, a step-parent living in the home or a legal guardian — at least 48 hours before the procedure.

A handful of lawmakers discuss changes to Illinois House rules during a committee hearing last month. The ACLU and Human Rights Watch are calling on the Legislature to repeal the Parental Notice of Abortion Act.
A handful of lawmakers discuss changes to Illinois House rules during a committee hearing last month. The ACLU and Human Rights Watch are calling on the Legislature to repeal the Parental Notice of Abortion Act.
Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP

The Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch are urging lawmakers to repeal a law requiring a minor to notify their parent or other legal guardian before receiving an abortion, arguing in a report to be released Thursday the law is “harmful” to the health and safety of young Illinoisans.

The report, titled “The Only People It Really Affects Are the People It Hurts: The Human Rights Impacts of Parental Notice of Abortion in Illinois,” will be released Thursday and focuses on the Parental Notice of Abortion Act as well as the effect it’s had on young people who have sought abortions since it went into effect in 2013.

Margaret Wurth, the lead author of the report, said the law “causes real harm” to those who are under 18 and seeking an abortion.

“The title of our report comes from a quote from a young person I interviewed and it fits this law exactly — most people do voluntarily involve a parent or trusted adult, but, the young people who don’t have those kinds of relationships are the ones this law hurts the most,” said Wurth, who is also a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, an international advocacy and investigative organization.

“For me, the real takeaway is that this violates people’s rights and it causes real harm. It’s a human rights imperative to repeal it.”

In her interviews for the 73-page report, Wurth said she was surprised by “the cruelty and humiliation” that young people faced in the process of trying to get an abortion.

Wurth talked to social workers who told her stories about parents or guardians intervening to prevent their child from having an abortion, humiliating them or, in the case of one minor who did have an abortion, leaving them at the clinic without a ride home.

Illinois is one of 37 states that have parental involvement laws, but is one of a few states on that list where abortion care is “relatively accessible,” Wurth said.

State Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, and state Rep. Anna Moeller, D-Elgin, introduced measures in their respective chambers to repeal the law, something Wurth said lawmakers seem committed to doing before the end of May. A bill seeking to repeal the law was introduced in 2019, but didn’t pass.

State Rep. Anna Moeller, left, in 2018; State Sen. Elgie Sims, right, last month.
State Rep. Anna Moeller, left, in 2018; State Sen. Elgie Sims, right, last month.
Rich Hein; Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

The Parental Notice of Abortion Act, which went into effect in 2013, requires a doctor providing care to a young person under age 18 who is seeking an abortion in the state to notify a designated adult family member — which could be a parent, grandparent, a step-parent living in the home or a legal guardian — at least 48 hours before the procedure.

The minor has the option of going to court to ask a judge for a waiver so they can have the procedure without family involvement in a process known as “judicial bypass.”

The person seeking an abortion has to give testimony, explain the circumstances of their pregnancy and give other details, such as who they spoke to during their decision-making process.

Anti-abortion activists argue that “it’s a great law” that should be upheld.

Amy Gehrke, the executive director of Illinois Right to Life, said the law “transcends just the abortion issue.

“It protects girls from sexual predators who, we know, use abortion to try and hide their crimes,” Gehrke said. “And also, it completely usurps the rights of parents who, most of whom, love their children and want to be involved in their children’s lives. It’s a great law for the people of Illinois for the women of Illinois, and it really is a protective law for young girls.”

Gehrke and Mary FioRito, an attorney who worked on the initial drafting of the parental notice legislation, expressed concerns around “parental rights being chipped away” if the law is repealed.

But Emily Werth, an ACLU staff attorney who has worked on judicial bypass cases and shared data with Wurth for the report, said the ACLU has represented about 500 young people in the “stressful and challenging” legal bypass process since the law went into effect.

“A majority of young people involve their parents in this process because those are the trusted folks in their lives and that’s who they go to, then there is a small number for whom involving their parents is not safe and those are the people who are impacted by this law,” Werth said.

“State law allows young people to make all other decisions during pregnancy … at the end of the day there are young people who are being harmed because this law exists and it’s our duty to get rid of this harmful law that puts them at risk.”

But Sarah Minnich, the Illinois regional coordinator for the the anti-abortion group Students for Life, said the law is “meant to protect all young women” no matter their circumstances.

“This is not about being pro-life or pro-choice, this is about putting aside the financial, and even ideological, considerations to put young women first,” Minnich said. “I think if we can do that we can find a lot of common ground in this law together.”