Quick Hit Monday August 11th, 2014, 7:39pm

OP-ED: Warning: These States May Be Harmful To Your Health

The following is written by Yamani Hernandez, executive director of the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health and mother of two. 

AL, MO and IL putting political agendas before the needs of young people.

This month marks one year since the implementation of the forced parental notification of abortion law in Illinois. It’s a moment to reflect on what that means for the people of Illinois, especially in the light of what’s happened in other states where similar laws have been implemented. Over time, these youth-targeted abortion laws have turned into a slippery slope towards more and more dangerous regulation that restricts access to abortion services. Representatives Kathleen Willis and Robyn Gabel support the efforts of the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health and allied organizations to oppose this dangerous law.

In the past year, Alabama, Missouri, and Illinois have chosen politics over public health.  We’ve witnessed the passing and hardening of parental consent & notification of abortion laws in these states where a small but vocal minority is pushing abortion restrictions, creating an unhealthy and shaming environment in which to make a decision about pregnancy.

These restrictions are in place despite all the knowledge we have about how harmful they are to everyone, not just youth. There are laws designed to close clinics, decreasing the availability of care from licensed, quality providers and policies. There are laws that deny health coverage for abortion, which makes care unaffordable and pushes it out of reach. These limitations fall hardest on those who already experience difficulty accessing health care – low-income people, people of color, immigrant communities and young people.

Each state has limited safe, confidential, and timely access to the full range of reproductive health care otherwise afforded to youth by law. Perhaps it’s time for some new state mottos?

Alabama: “Just Say No to Adolescent Sexual Health.”

In Alabama, the Parental Notification of Abortion Bill was modified in January 2014. Although the bill is named “notification,” a minor under 18 must now acquire permission for abortion services through parental consent and proof of identity.  This bill fits with the numerous restrictions on abortion in the state, including dictates on how and when care is provided and a policy that denies health coverage for people using public insurance benefits. There are also imposed limits of access to medication abortion, an important and safe method for early abortion care.

Alabama is ranked 35th in the nation on support of pregnant and parenting youth and is neglectful in providing necessary information and resources in schools. Although HIV education is mandated, general sex education is not.  Where sex education is taught, it needs to be age appropriate, but it is not required to be medically accurate. Further, Alabama is not moving forward at this time with Medicaid expansion, which is particularly harmful to vulnerable populations, such as youth who are aging out of foster care and the 10% of adolescents in America who are uninsured. Without sex education and medical insurance, youth are being forced to both fend for their own health care information, medical needs, and confront the systems that have already failed them when attempting to access abortion care.

Missouri: “No Information, No Privacy, No Exceptions.”

Missouri’s forced parental involvement, HB 1192, now requires both parents or the legal guardian of a minor to be notified that the minor is seeking an abortion. It also requires one parent to provide written consent. This law does not include exceptions for medical emergencies, nor exceptions for cases of abuse, assault, incest, or neglect. The session politicians not only pushed for expanded limits on young people’s access to abortion care, but also extending a mandated delay to receive care and a bill that could limit availability of safe care from licensed, quality providers.  It is clear that what they are trying to make abortion harder to get and more expensive, which can put safe care out of reach for many people.

As in Alabama, Missouri’s forced parental consent law is situated amidst a range of restrictions on abortion, including dictates on how and when care is provided and policies that deny health coverage for people using public insurance programs, as well as restrictions on private insurance plans and for public employees. Missouri also limits access to medication abortion, thereby reducing access to abortion services in rural areas, which is crucial in a place like Missouri.

Missouri does not offer adequate sex education or medical insurance to young people in the state and when taught, sex education is not required to be medically accurate. Missouri is ranked 20th in the nation on support of pregnant and parenting teens and is also not moving forward at this time with Medicaid expansion. In states like Alabama and Missouri, a safe environment for youth to thrive is being severely limited by these laws, lack of information, and refusal to expand Medicaid to ensure access to health care for those who need it most.

Illinois: “We Support Youth, but Not When They Need it Most.”

Illinois has made major strides in recent years when it comes supporting youth through comprehensive sexuality education, ensuring people can make their own decision when it comes to pregnancy and parenting and providing access to health care through Medicaid expansion and other health promotion programs. In this context, the Parental Notification of Abortion Law in Illinois is incredibly out of touch with the state’s values.

For instance, where sex education is being taught, Illinois now requires it be medically accurate and age appropriate. Work has been done to ensure affordable access to care by providing public and private health coverage for abortion. Illinois is also moving towards supporting pregnant and parenting youth with several school districts and organizations seeking to the success of all students under Title IX.

Illinois was one of the first states in the US to agree to a Medicaid Expansion in 2014 and is committed to ensuring access to care for low income families. The state also has laws that address harassment, discrimination, and/or bullying of students based on sexual orientation and gender identity. These are groundbreaking policies that set the bar high for other states.

When it comes to forced parental notification of abortion, Illinois has dropped the ball. Illinois used to be an island of safety in the otherwise restrictive Midwest - a place where young people could go for safe and legal abortion care. Now, young people have to travel as far as Nevada or DC if they’re unable or unwilling to notify parents or gain judicial bypass.

Generally speaking, Illinois protects the ability of each person to make their own decision regarding abortion EXCEPT for the forced parental notification law. Illinois grants youth the right to confidential testing, prenatal care, mental health services and more, just not abortion care. However, young parents in Illinois, already considered adults by the state in every other way, are still subject to forced parental notification. This highlights a larger hypocrisy of parental notification laws that young people are quick to recognize – the laws require proof of maturity to seek abortion services, but not to become a parent.

The health of youth and families are at risk or at promise in each policy decision made. The important thing is not which political fight you want to win or lose. It is about supporting youth and standing up for access to health care when people need it. That’s why youth leaders are standing up and speaking out about these laws that are chipping away at their reproductive rights, and therefore at their families and ability to make the best decision for their lives. 

Slippery Slope: Will Illinois fall into the same TRAP as Missouri & Alabama?

Missouri and Alabama's forced parental consent laws are far from new. They are built on previous, less restrictive parental notification laws similar to the one implemented in Illinois one year ago, without warning. In Illinois, the legislature knows their constituents are interested in expanding rather than restricting youth rights to healthcare information and services. So it was surprising when this bill slipped through in July 2013 to be implemented one month later. Youth-serving organizations only had that single month to begin warning young people about the newly enforceable law and the stopgap of judicial bypass.

As we glimpse into the future of forced parental notification laws by watching the outcomes in other states, we have good reason to be cautious and move towards a repeal in our own. As we watch these laws grow more and more dangerous, young people are the ones with the most to lose. Beyond the knowledge that these laws can cause violence, homelessness, and even death, we are allowing them to prevent young people from making crucial decisions about their health, families, and lives. It takes away their dignity.

Working to Support Young People in Our State

Wouldn’t you like Illinois’ state motto to be: “Public Health Before Politics”?

The American Medical Association, the Society for Adolescent Medicine, the American Public Health Association, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, and other health professional organizations stand in agreement against mandatory parental involvement in abortion decision-making. Organizations that work directly with young people like the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, Advocates for Youth, the Chicago Abortion Fund, URGE (formerly Choice USA), Young Women United, and others are all working to raise awareness about these laws.

There has been growing attention in national media around the issue of forced parental notification and consent laws in the past year. Illinois is starting to get a lot of negative attention because of its relatively new restrictions.

Meanwhile, organizations around the nation are standing up for the needs of young people by speaking in support of the Young Parents’ Dignity Agenda. This initiative is being led by Strong Families to influence decision-making in Congress when it comes to fair employment, educational opportunities, healthcare, housing, and childcare. In the idea of youth dignity, we need to include the actions voters take to make the full range of reproductive health accessible, legal, and permanent. We need to oppose forced parental involvement laws and push for policies that respect young people and work to meet their needs, according to their real lives. That is a state policy agenda that we can all be proud of!

Yamani Hernandez is the executive director of the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health and mother of two. Learn more at http://stoppna.org.

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