In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s announcement that it will hear a case that would potentially roll back the abortion rights covered in Roe v. Wade, some Illinois legislators are hoping to advance a measure that would eliminate what they’re referring to as “the last anti-abortion law” from Illinois statutes in the final days of the Illinois legislative session.
The law they’re seeking to strike requires a healthcare provider to notify a parent or guardian that their minor is seeking an abortion.
“This was a solution in search of a problem that never existed,” said Rep. Anna Moeller, D-Elgin, who is leading the effort in the state House of Representatives to repeal the law. “It was really a way to slow down and prevent people from having access to reproductive healthcare under the guise of parental notification.”
Illinois Republicans passed the measure during the only legislative session the GOP had majority control of the House of Representatives in more than a generation. Then-GOP State Rep. Terry Parke argued it would motivate “families to talk and discuss with a minor daughter what to do with a pregnancy.”After Republican Gov. Jim Edgar signed the measure into law in 1995, the ACLU of Illinois filed a lawsuit, prompting a years-long court fight that prevented the law from going into effect until 2013.
Those who support the parental notice requirement continue to make the same points that Parke did in 1995. They point to state data showing a decrease in abortions among minors since the law went into effect.
1,092 people 17 and under terminated their pregnancy in 2018, according to the most recent data published by the Illinois Department of Public Health. In 2014, the year after the law went into effect, that number was 1,255.
“The lives saved by this law are real and present among us,” wrote Cardinal Blase Cupich and five of the state’s Catholic bishops in a March letter to lawmakers attempting to stop Moeller’s bill from advancing. Repealing the law, they wrote, “is nothing less than an invasion into the sacred space of family life by the state, with no provision to support the minor emotionally, humanely or materially at a critical moment in her life.”
In fact, those who are lobbying state lawmakers to remove the language from statute say the vast majority of minors who seek abortions already involve a parent or guardian in their decision. So the law largely impacts minors who don’t come from a home with a parent or guardian. In those instances, they are required to get the input of a judge in the minor’s decision.
“It’s a very shaming and stigmatizing experience and it ends up delaying them getting the healthcare that they need,” said Brigid Leahy, senior director of public policy for Planned Parenthood Illinois Action. “The best place for that young person to be is sitting down with a healthcare provider and a counselor and getting the information they need so that they can make the best decision for them.”
Leahy said she and a coalition of similar-minded organizations are still working to convince lawmakers to take up the parental notice repeal, though they are up against the clock to have the bill pass both the House and Senate before the legislature’s scheduled adjournment of May 31.
She said she is staying vigilant to keep abortion-related regulations off Illinois’ books while the Supreme Court takes up cases like a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks. Though, after Gov. JB Pritzker signed the Reproductive Health Act in 2019, which proponents argued would keep abortion legal in Illinois in spite of any future Supreme Court decision, Illinois stands in a much different position than its neighboring states on the issue.
“We will have to keep working to protect our rights in this state,” Leahy said. “It should be deeply concerning to us as American citizens that all of the states around Illinois could be poised to ban abortion in the next few years should the court rule against Roe v. Wade.”
Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.