Parental Notification Law Will Only Harm Illinois’ Young Women

This post was first published on American Forum.

Bianca (not her real name) is a 17-year-old pregnant woman who lives in Chicago and is already raising a 1-year-old child. She has made the difficult decision to get an abortion and cannot tell her mother because if she did, Bianca and her daughter would be thrown out onto the streets.

The state isn’t making things easier either. Recently, the injunction on the 1995 Illinois Parental Notice of Abortion Act was dissolved by the U.S. Court of Appeals thus requiring notification either by phone or face-to-face, to a person over 21 years of age who is a parent,
grandparent, step-parent living in the household or the legal guardian of the pregnant youth. That means if Bianca — and countless others like her under the age of 18 — tried to access an abortion after 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, August 4, 2009, the abortion provider would be legally bound to give at least 48 hours notice to an adult family member.

While parental notification laws are intended to protect young women, they assume that all young women can safely involve their family in the decision to terminate a pregnancy. Ideally, young women would freely inform their parents or other trusted adults. And most do.

According to a study published in Family Planning Perspectives, 74 percent of 15-year-old women report that at least one of their parents knew about their decision to have an abortion. For 14-year-old young women, this percentage grows to 90 percent.

However, the government cannot mandate good family dynamics or strengthen a family’s ability to engage in effective and positive communication. Interestingly enough, parental notification laws mandate family involvement only after a young woman already has become pregnant.

Like Bianca, more than half of young women who do not involve a parent in their decision to seek an abortion cite fear of abuse or eviction. The American Medical Association (AMA) reports that some young women will go to extreme and unhealthy lengths to keep pregnancies secret, including running away, obtaining illegal abortions, or self-inducing abortions.

The AMA, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and many others have cited the risk to teens’ health in opposing these laws. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “mandating parental notification does not achieve the intended benefit of promoting family communication, but it does increase the risk of harm to the adolescent by delaying access to appropriate care.”

Requiring parental notification or consent can expose young women to these risks. Furthermore, research has shown that when a Texas parental notification law was implemented in 2000, the odds increased that a young women’s pregnancy would result in a second-trimester abortion. Although abortion is among the safest surgical procedures for women, risk of complications increase as the pregnancy progresses.

The Illinois law permits a young woman to seek a waiver by obtaining a court order. But there’s little proof that the state courts are prepared to handle the judicial bypass procedure, which mandates a 48-hour turnaround and absolute privacy. Additionally, young women who already face multiple barriers to accessing legal health care — based on culture, language, religion, economic or immigrant status — will
encounter even greater obstacles if forced to navigate through the judicial bypass procedure.

Rather than continuing to restrict health options for adolescent women, we should focus on ensuring that all youth have access to the information and reproductive health care they need and deserve.

Medically accurate, age appropriate, comprehensive sexual health education, proven to reduce unsafe sexual behaviors, should be taught in all Illinois schools. All teachers in Illinois should receive sexual health education as part of their basic training. As considerable research has shown emergency contraception to be safe and effective, it should be made available without a prescription to all adolescents without delay.

These are solutions that will reduce the need for abortion without compromising the health of young women in Illinois, and are solutions that our policymakers, legislators and courts should support.

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  • catseye71352

    Girls who _can_ tell their parents, DO tell their parents. The issues surrounding abusive adults will never go away in re: notification requirements.

    Catseye  ( (|) )

  • anonymous99

    So a girl can’t talk to her parents about birth control over her parents’ “purity” concerns, then she gets pregnant so how the hell can she talk to them about an abortion? I get it. But are there ANY medical procedures, except those of the life-saving nature, that can be performed on, say, a 15 year-old girl without parental approval? I don’t know. I understand the problem, don’t get me wrong, but performing a medical procedure on a young person without notifying the parents can’t be the right answer here. I think we have to trust the juducial bypass procedures in these cases. It’s not perfect, but I think its a reasonable solution.

  • lineline

    But then you get into this weird situation where a 16-year can make medical decisions for her child, but can’t make them for herself.


    Being pregnant (although in terms of childbirth dosen’t have to be a medical event) IS very different from consenting to otther medical procedures. A different type of autonomy is necessary. Plenty of people grow up to have different worldviews than those they were raised with, and parents should not be able to force their kids to have or not have an abortion. 

     I say this especially as someone who works with abused/neglected teens, and as someone who has watched the 16 and Pregnant show on MTV. 

  • anonymous99

    Great point!  "But then you get into this weird situation where a 16-year (old) can make medical decisions for her child, but can’t make them for herself."  I’m with you 100%.  This brings up the larger picture of the life of a teenager in America today.  Here’s the problem as I see it – we treat our teenagers as if they’re children and they’re NOT.  It’s just not consistent to say you’re not prepared to drink alchohol, vote, or decide who you can have sex with (age of consent), but it’s OK if you want to decide on your own to have an abortion.  If you don’t have the capacity to drink a beer, pull a lever to vote for your mayor, or decide who you can have a relationship with then you certainly can’t decide to have a medical procedure on your own.  I personally feel that teens should have more freedoms not less.  I would completely eliminate or lower the age restrictions drastically for the aforementioned activities if I had my way, but I’m geussing I’d have little support from my fellow 40-somethings.  Given this reality, again, parental notification for abortions with some type of judicial review is a reasonable (not perfect) solution.

  • pilar608

    Even in my conservative state, teens can receive STD testing and treatment without notifying their parents.  I believe that teens are also permitted to carry a pregnancy to term and receive pre-natal exams, etc. without parental notification.  While these are not sugeries, they are medical interventions that deal with the sexual activity of a teen, and at least one (pregnancy) is a pretty major medical status–especially given the higher risk rates of pregnant teens.


    I understand the worries of parents who just want their kids to trust them and tell them when things are going on.  But the law is incapable of creating good parent/child relationships.  If you want your daughter to tell you about her pregnancy or abortion, you yourself have to create a relationship where she will feel safe telling you. 


    And I do think that these laws do real harm to teens whose parents are abusive, whose parents will evict them, or who are so scared of the above that these teens will get illegal, unsafe abortions to avoid the parental notification laws.  It’s not worth it, IMO, to use the law to give a false sense of security to Mr./Ms. Average Parent when its real effects are on teens who have Mr./MS. Shitty Parent.

  • crowepps

    Being pregnant (although in terms of childbirth dosen’t have to be a medical event) IS very different

    I may be reading too much into your parenthetical comment, but are you seriously asserting that medical care is unnecessary for childbirth?  You may not be aware of it, but not having medical care is far more dangerous for both mother and infant.


    "The fetal mortality rate was 32 vs. 9 for Indiana (significantly higher); and the neonatal mortality rate was 17 vs. 9, respectively. The maternal mortality rate was 872/100.000 live births for church members residing in the 2 counties vs. 9/100.000 for Indiana: an astounding ninety-twofold higher rate. The risk of perinatal and maternal death is greatly augmented even in the US when women do not utilize obstetric care."


    With no obstetric care the rate of infant death at birth more than triples, the rate of infant death after birth almost doubles, and the number of women who die from complications of labor and delivery is MULTIPLED by 92.  At the present time approximately 550 women die annually in the United States from complications of labor and delivery.  Without obstetric care, that number would increase to over 50,000.

  • anonymous99

    I really appreciate what you wrote, but good luck divorcing a false sense of security and Mr./Ms. Average Parent.  Average parents are pressing schools for hugging bans all across the country.  I don’t think we can count on them loosening up on parental notification on abortion at this time.  Just being realistic here.

  • anavfvf

    good luck divorcing