Parental Notice Law Not a Political Compromise

Quite the contenious issue, the Illinois Parental Notice of Abortion Act has never been enacted due to a court order. That is, until now.

The most recent version of the law, passed in 1995, would require a young woman seeking to terminate a pregnancy to inform a parent, step-parent living in the household, grandparent, or legal guardian of her decision, or navigate the judicial system for a waiver.

The law was scheduled to go into effect yesterday, after a federal court lifted the injunction in July, but now remains in limbo pending a lawsuit by the ACLU of Illinois and considerations by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

Yesterday, the Chicago Tribune published a flawed editorial in favor of the law. Here are a couple of their claims:

It’s a sensible, temperate law aimed at ensuring that parents will not be shut out of a decision that has such grave health and moral implications.
It took a long, long time for democracy to work in this instance, but we’re glad it did, particularly for a measure that represents an intelligent middle ground on a deeply divisive issue. Abortion-rights supporters think pregnant girls should have unrestricted access to abortion, while abortion-rights opponents think abortion should be illegal for adults as well as teens in most or all circumstances. Neither got their way this time.
The law recognizes that the constitutional right to privacy encompasses a woman’s right to have an abortion. But it reflects an understanding that most minors lack the maturity to handle a matter like this without the counsel of the people who care most about them. To most people, we suspect, this is just a matter of common sense.

Needless to say, the Tribune’s editorial oversimplifies a very complex social issue. Sadly, the piece employs many of the same worn-out arguments supporting such laws.

At first glance, parental involvement laws – either notification or consent – for abortion do seem like common sense measures in the best interest of young women. But, with a little more consideration and analysis, we know that’s hardly the case. Parental involvement laws affect the most helpless young women who can not inform a family member or legal guardian – those, for instance, who live in abusive households, are the victims of incest, or who face possible eviction.

What’s more, the Tribune’s charge that young women “lack the maturity” to make such a decision is belittling, to say the least. We have an obligation, first and foremost, to provide young women and men with information, skills, and resources to make responsible decisions about their sexual health. Then, we need to trust them – trust that they will inform a family member or close adult and, if not, that they have a compelling reason.

The Illinois Parental Notice of Abortion Act is certainly not a “sensible, temperate law” that offers an “intelligent middle ground” to the abortion debate, as the Tribune claims. Putting at-risk young women in harm’s way is not a political compromise.

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