For more than two decades after the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, Illinois lawmakers bitterly debated a question important to many families: Should parents know that their daughter, who's younger than 18, intends to have an abortion?
Lawmakers passed what are known as parental involvement laws in 1977 and 1983, only to have the courts strike them down. But in 1995 proponents and opponents of abortion rights negotiated a moderate compromise bill that required the notification — significantly, not the consent — of a parent, stepparent, guardian or grandparent that a girl under 18 was planning an abortion. The bill permitted exceptions for medical emergencies, and allowed a judge to waive the requirement if notifying a family member would not be in the girl's best interest and if she was mature enough to make the decision on her own.
Legal squabbles delayed implementation of parental notification until 2013, when the Illinois Supreme Court, led by a Democratic majority of justices, unanimously ruled in its favor. "The state has an interest in ensuring that a minor is sufficiently mature and well-informed to make the difficult decision whether to have an abortion. . We agree with the defendants that the Act is crafted narrowly to achieve its aim of promoting the minors' best interests through parental consultation," the justices wrote.
Remember, the law requires notification, not consent. In practice, it mandates that abortion providers check in with an adult at least 48 hours before performing an abortion on a minor. That's the only restriction. Even the pro-choice American Civil Liberties Union acknowledges that Illinois has some of the least-restrictive abortion laws in the Midwest.
Now, however, the Illinois General Assembly is considering legislation to repeal that law.
While the notification requirement surely provokes heartbreaking conversations, you could argue it is working. Nearly 400 girls statewide since 2013 have obtained a judge's permission to proceed without informing their parents. The ACLU says only one girl has been denied. That means the thousands of other girls who've had abortions since the law took effect did inform an adult in their lives.
Even girls who can't tell a family member and who use the judicial bypass option do have responsible adults — a judge and other advocates during the process — watching out for their interests. That's a good thing. We're grateful for the ACLU's deep and passionate involvement in helping girls navigate the system.
But that system does not block girls' access to abortion. It enhances their emotional support system along the way.
Supporters of repeal, including the ACLU, describe the difficulty minors who use judicial bypass encounter. They have to get to a courthouse during the week and appear before a judge. With travel and school and other commitments, and the need to do it all in secret, the bypass option is too burdensome and should be removed, the ACLU argues.
We can't say logistical problems, however, are persuasive enough to repeal a law that is there to protect the girls. Should the bypass option be modernized to take advantage of new technology, such as allowing girls to make court appearances via Skype-like telecommunications? Should the circle of family members eligible for notification be expanded, perhaps to include adult siblings or others with close ties to young women? School counselors, school nurses, social workers, juvenile law enforcement officers? Perhaps that's a more commonsense conversation for the General Assembly than a full repeal of the notification law.
But the ACLU and other abortion rights groups, emboldened by an all-Democrat controlled General Assembly and the support of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, instead are pushing a package of bills that would make this state's already liberal laws more permissive for minors.
Taken together, the bills not only would repeal the parental notification requirement, but would lift Illinois' ban on so-called partial-birth abortion late in pregnancies; require private insurance plans to cover abortions the same as contraception, fertility and maternity care; and would allow advance-practice nurses, not just physicians, to perform abortions in Illinois.
The bills go too far, especially the potential lifting of parental notification. Nearly every opinion poll nationally shows support for parental notification laws, not less restriction. Why? Because parents have broad rights over their minor children — but also broad responsibilities to help them navigate the challenges of adolescence. We acknowledge these parental roles in many other areas of the law — including most medical treatment decisions. The ACLU tells us that 37 states have parental involvement laws in place.
In Illinois, neither side has entirely had its way. That has spared this state much of the "Gotcha!" pattern of wild swings on abortion policy that have buffeted other states when political power swings left and right.
Illinois' abortion laws — the parental notification law included — made sense when lawmakers enacted them, made sense when courts upheld them and make sense now. Let them stand.
— Chicago Tribune