Reproductive rights advocates and several youths took to Springfield Thursday to speak out against a state law requiring parental notification before a minor can obtain abortion services.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, the Chicago Abortion Fund and the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health (ICAH) hosted the day of advocacy at the Capitol to call for a repeal of the state's Parental Notice of Abortion Act of 1995, a law activists say puts teens in harm's way.
"For many young women, having a family member notified is equivalent to them being abused, being kicked out of their home, or being forced to carry a pregnancy to term against their will," stressed Allie Carter, advocacy and outreach director at the ACLU of Illinois.
The state’s high court made waves back in July after it found the parental notification law, which has never been implemented due to legal challenges, to be constitutional. In an unanimous decision, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld a previous circuit court’s dismissal of a lawsuit filed back in 2009 by the ACLU of Illinois that challenged the law.
Enforcement of the parental notification measure started in August following the state Supreme Court's ruling.
Thursday's day of advocacy culminated with a youth-led rally at the rotunda, where Calumet City resident Torrance Johnson, 17, said the recently enforced law impacts all young people, regardless if they are seeking an abortion or not.
"You may know someone who will want to have an abortion," he said at the afternoon event attended by about 50 youths. "Everybody does not live in an ideal situation and some parents want to put their children out."
Johnson had a friend who was kicked out of her home after her parents learned she wanted to have an abortion. The young woman was later murdered while out in the streets, he said.
"Everyone doesn't have a fortunate situation for their parents to understand and to listen, or even to just have a conversation with us," he said. "All of us may know somebody, just like I knew somebody, and it's very common in my community for individuals to have unplanned pregnancies and unprotected sex, and it's saddening that a lot of the rights we have are taken away as youth and individuals. Sometimes it's forgotten that adults were once us before."
ICAH's Executive Director Yamani Hernandez shared another heartbreaking story. Seven years ago while working at a summer jobs program for youth, Hernandez met a 14-year-old girl who already had a child and recently found out she was pregnant again.
"In our jobs program, it was pay day, and she asked all of the young people that were in the program if she could pay them $10 each to kick her in the stomach so that she would miscarry ... so that she wouldn't have to tell her parents that she needed an abortion," Hernandez said. "I understand that's a very violent story, and it's difficult to hear, but it's real. And it's something that is actually happening. That young person was so afraid to talk to her parents ... she was willing to endure being violently beaten to avoid having a perfectly safe medical procedure."
At the moment, 38 states in the country mandate parental notification or consent prior to a youth obtaining abortion services, according to ICAH.
Under Illinois' law, those aged 17 and younger would not need parental consent to get an abortion. Instead, doctors would have to let an adult family member of a minor seeking an abortion know at least 48 hours prior to the procedure. There are some exceptions to notification, including medical emergencies.
The law requires a parent to sign a document saying they have received notification, and that form would permanently be attached to a minor’s medical record. But a court waiver could be issued to a young woman if a judge deems her mature enough to make the decision without involving a parent, or if parental notification would not be in the best interest of the minor.
Back in 1996, a federal judge halted enforcement of the abortion notification law due to missing provisions involving a judicial bypass procedure for minors. The Illinois Supreme Court was responsible for adding those rules to the law and did not do so until 2006. The ACLU lawsuit, brought on behalf of the Granite City’s Hope Clinic for Women and the director of the University of Illinois at Chicago's Center for Reproductive Health, was filed after a federal appeals court lifted the law’s injunction in 2009.
Here is more from the ACLU's Carter as well as comments from Chicago Abortion Fund Deputy Director Brittany Mostiller, who stressed that all "youth deserve to have unlimited access to their reproductive health care [and] abortion services":
ICAH youth leader and Chicago resident Anthony Beaver, 24, had a chance to speak with State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) about the law.
"She told me that she's very much against PNA [parental notification of abortion], it's just that with the current way the House and Senate are right now, this might not be the right time to try to get a whole repeal," Beaver said. "But this is more about raising awareness, so that whoever comes into power next, they think more progressively and are aware of what PNA is."
Belleville teenager Nichole Glass, 17, said she took part in the action to stand up for the young women who are unable to talk with their parents for a number of reasons about abortion.
"I have supportive parents, and they wouldn't really judge me on my choice. They would really help me out," she said. "They wouldn't be against me, but there are (teens) who don't have those choices and supporting parents like that."