Repeal of parental notification law would harm minors, bishops say

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The Catholic bishops of Illinois are urging parishioners to contact their state legislators to oppose the proposed repeal of Illinois’ parental notification law for abortion.

“The enactment of this legislation would lead to tragic and irreversible outcomes,” according to a letter from the bishops posted on the Catholic Conference of Illinois website and distributed to parishes in March. “The Parental Notice of Abortion Act simply requires that when a minor girl seeks to have an abortion, a parent or guardian is notified 48 hours before the procedure. The obvious hope of the law is that parents, by their deep love and moral obligation, will act to protect, support and guide their children.”

The parental notification law, first passed in 1995 but not enforced until 2013, requires that a parent or guardian of a girl under 18 be notified at least 48 hours before she has an abortion. Girls who feel that notifying their parents could be risky can ask for a judicial review.

The number of abortions performed each year on minors in Illinois has decreased by 30 percent since 2013, according to the letter.

“These are the reasons every state in the Midwest and 37 states overall have laws requiring some form of parental involvement in the decision of a minor to have an abortion,” the bishops wrote. “Illinois has been among those states for eight years and no obvious problems or detriments have been publicly exposed. The repeal of Parental Notice of Abortion is a tragic solution in search of a problem.”

“We think the law is working as intended,” said Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, which is the state lobbying arm of the bishops. “We’ve seen the number of abortions to minors decrease substantially. It tells us that when parents are involved in their children’s lives, good things happen, and a life could potentially be saved.”

Bills to repeal the parental notification law have been introduced in both the Illinois House and Senate. The house bill, HB 1797, has been assigned to the human services committee; the senate bill, SB 2190, could be assigned to a committee once the legislature returns from a recess April 12.

All of the states that surround Illinois require that parents at least be notified before a minor girl has an abortion; some require parental consent, Gilligan said. A poll by Illinois Right to Life found that 72 percent of respondents supported the parental notification law, with even higher support from Black and Hispanic respondents.

Supporters of the parental notification law say that repealing it could make it easier for sex traffickers to force their victims to have abortions.

“This is really a predatory law if it goes into effect,” said Dawn Fitzpatrick, the Archdiocese of Chicago’s senior coordinator for Respect Life and Chastity Education. “It will enable sex traffickers to keep their evidence quiet. Even people in other states — it would be easier to bring those girls here and have the parents be none the wiser.”

Fitzpatrick pointed out that minors need parental permission for minor medical procedures of other kinds.

“The school nurse needs parental permission to give kids an aspirin,” she said.

Supporters also pointed to a 2019 change in Illinois law that raised the minimum age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21. Proponents of that change cited research about adolescent brain development.

“Minors are impulsive,” Gilligan said. “Their brains are not fully developed until they are 25.”

While pro-life advocates acknowledge that they want to reduce the number of abortions, they argue that a repeal would put parents in a difficult position if their daughter has an abortion and then suffers from complications afterward.

“You can be a parent, a minor can go for an abortion, and you don’t know anything about it,” Gilligan said. “And it can have complications, to their physical and emotional health. Then you’re leaving parents to help counsel their underage daughter and they don’t even know what happened.”

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