Teen Abortion: To Tell Or Not

Mar 22, 2021

Democrats want to repeal Ilinois' Parental Notification of Abortion Act, seven years after its enforcement began.  Abortion opponents are out in force, aiming to protect the law.

Arguments about keeping or repealing Illinois’ Parental Notification of Abortion law in some ways sound similar. Both sides say it protects rights. But whose?’ Those of teens or parents?

The parental notification requirement is an exception to otherwise extensive abortion rights in Illinois, said Elizabeth Nash, a state policy expert at the Guttmacher Institute, an advocacy and research organization that tracks reproductive health issues.

Democratic Illinois lawmakers last month proposed repealing the law, which has been enforced since mid 2013. Under the law, parents don’t have to consent, but if  teens don’t want to inform a 22-year-old or older family member, they must go before a judge. 

Dr, Brook Bello couldn’t tell a parent she was having abortions. The counselor and  author is CEO and founder of the organization  More Too Life.

She said she is a survivor of human trafficking and a pre-teen rape. Early in her teens, she was 

forced to have multiple abortions by her traffickers. Those procedures left her unable to bear children. Scarred, she had to have a hysterectomy.

“Had my parents been notified, my mother would have known what city I was (in), she would have known what street I possibly would have been near. She could have contacted law enforcement,’’ she said.

Bello is member of a coalition called Parents for the Protection of Girls that was formed to block repeal of the PNA. Members include Illinois Right to Life, the Pro-Life Action League and Students for Life of America.

“Why would you want a child to keep something secret that's going to affect the rest of her life?” she asked.

Supporters of repealing the PNA say there are times when notifying a parent is not possible. Perhaps the parent has COVID-19 and is being treated out of state. What if the parent is abusive or intolerant?

Brigid Leahy is with Planned Parenthood Illinois Action. The group is the political arm of Planned Parenthood Illinois. 

“The only young people who this truly impacts are those who are in family situations where it is unsafe or dangerous or very ill-advised for them to involve that parent, but the rest are already doing so,” she said. “You can't have a law that is going to make families be able to function well or talk well with each other.”

Dr. Rebecca Commito, a Chicago obstetrician and gynecologist, was interviewed for a joint report by the ACLU of Illinois and Human Rights Watch that detailed reasons arguing that the PNA should be repealed. She talked about her experiences with teens seeking abortion.

Dr. Rebecca Commito is a Chicago obstetrician and gynecologist who wants to see the Parental Notice of Abortion law repealed.
Credit Zoom

“When they have chosen to induce abortion, when they do not involve a parent or guardian. …young patients share with me that this is because they're concerned about judgment that may lead to social or financial isolation… being forced out of their homes or experiencing sexual or physical violence,” she said.

But there are consequences for teens of abortion, as well, said the Rev. Jon Jones, a pastor at a Tinley Park church. Like Bello, he was part of a virtual press conference last week.

“It seems unfathomable that the law would allow a minor to make a decision to access abortion without any adult guidance,” Jones said. “We know the potential severe physical and emotional consequences associated with abortion. We cannot leave our children to face them alone.”

Bob Gilligan, who  is executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois,  agrees with Jones and points out that the law does not require consent.

“Parents and guardians have to consent to just about anything a child wants to do today: field trips, medication at school, joining sports,” Gilligan said. “We have laws that protect parents and treat children differently. And science tells us that their brains are not even fully formed until 25.”

Bob Gilligan and Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago. Cardinal Cupich led the state's archbishops in a letter calling for their parishioners to call lawmakers and tell them they want the PNA to stay intact.
Credit Karen Callaway / Chicago Catholic

But Leahy, from Planned Parenthood, points out that other actions related to pregnancy do not require parental consent or notification, such as pre-natal testing and care and procedures like a Caesarion section. Or giving up a child for adoption. Other public health events that don’t require notice or consent include getting contraceptives, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections and counseling for sexual assault, mental health and substance abuse.

According Nash at the Guttmacher Institute, 38 states require parental notification of abortion and 21 require parental consent. Six states require both notice and consent. She said a few states are looking at laws to expand rights for teens related to parental notification, while others are seeking to make it harder for teens who are unwilling to tell family or seek consent if they want to have an abortion.

Emily Werth, an ACLU attorney who works with teens who seek judicial bypass, said  in the seven years the law has been enforced, more than 500 teens have sought the alternative to parental notification. They go before a judge to explain why they can’t or do not want to tell an older family member of their plans for an abortion. It is a daunting process, she said.

‘‘What this law does is put those young folks who don't have that kind of trusting support from an adult family member… it puts them at risk. It forces them to jump through hurdles, it delays their care.’’ Werth said. 

There were clients, she said, who were delayed so long by the bypass process that it was too late for them to have an abortion.

ACLU attorney Emily Werth has represented more than 80 girls seeking judicial bypass.
Credit ACLU of Illinois

She said: “These young people that we could not help and who may have ended up parenting before they were really ready. Those are the ones that haunt me.”