Listen to Youth: Adult Allies Must Support the Repeal of Illinois’ Forced Parental Notification Law

Monday, June 02, 2014

This post by Renee Bracey Sherman is part of the Echoing Ida project and originally appeared on RH Reality Check.

While forced parental involvement laws aren’t new, more states have been passing them or tightening their existing laws to decrease access to abortion for teens. (Parental signature via Shutterstock)

As May comes to a close, so do National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month campaigns. Some of the conversations this month highlighted the need for comprehensive, age-appropriate health and sexuality education, and to ensure young people have access to contraception.

But sadly, it was also a month filled with messages that judge and shame pregnant and parenting teens and young women who seek abortion.

One place where the tension between supporting and shaming really comes through is in my home state of Illinois. The issues of young people, sex, pregnancy, parenting, and abortion have been heating up in recent years due to a fight around the implementation of the forced parental notification law.

The Parental Notice of Abortion Act requires an abortion provider to notify the parent or guardian of a young person age 17 or younger who’s seeking an abortion within 48 hours of the teen receiving care. If a young person does not feel they can go to their parent or guardian, there is a provision that allows them to request a bypass from a judge. Of course this is not a simple process—it requires navigating the complex court system, in addition to missing school to see a judge who might let their personal feelings about abortion block the young person’s access to reproductive health care. In a small town, where everyone knows each other, it can also mean that a young person loses any and all privacy around their medical decisions; shaming gossip spreads fast amongst the cornstalks.

The Illinois law, originally passed in 1995, was held up in the courts for years, but last summer a ruling came down that the archaic policy would be enforced starting this past fall.

“Not only does this law make a difficult decision more dangerous for the most vulnerable of youth, but it interferes with healthy and trusting family communication,” explained Yamani Hernandez, executive director of the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health (ICAH).

ICAH’s youth leaders are working in partnership with the Chicago Abortion Fund, Parenting for Success, Mujeres Latinas en Acción, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois to support young people who are hurt by the law while raising awareness and building support to repeal this policy. In April, the coalition sent youth leaders to Springfield, the state capitol, to make their voices heard.

Laws like this one keep young people from accessing the basic health care they need—especially when access to reproductive health care is already dwindling across the country. While forced parental involvement laws aren’t new, more states have been passing them or tightening their existing laws to decrease access to abortion for teens—which doesn’t make sense at a time when teen pregnancy, abortion, and birth rates are, and have been, at record lows.

Not only do youth know what they do and don’t need, research also shows that such legislation isn’t necessary. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 90 percent of 14-year-olds and 74 percent of 15-year-olds surveyed said they involved at least one parent or guardian in their abortion decision. Those young people who didn’t cited that they were worried that they may be thrown out or experience other abuse by their guardian.

Read the rest of the article on RH Reality Check.

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