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Illinois House Passes Legislation To Repeal Parental Notification Abortion Law

CHICAGO (CBS/AP) -- Illinois state lawmakers have approved legislation to repeal a 1995 law requiring parents or guardians to be notified when their child seeks an abortion, sending the measure to Gov. JB Pritzker, who has expressed his support.

By a 62-51 vote late Wednesday night, the House approved legislation that would repeal a requirement that a parent or guardian be notified at least 48 hours in advance when a minor 17 or younger seeks an abortion. The Illinois Senate approved the legislation on Tuesday. The next step is to send the proposal to Pritzker, who has said he's in favor of repealing the 1995 Parental Notification Act.

"At a time when reproductive rights are under attack across the country, Illinois is protecting those critical reproductive rights. This repeal was essential, because it was the most vulnerable pregnant minors who were being hurt most by this law: victims of rape, incest and physical abuse," Pritzker said in a news release. "I thank Representative Anna Moeller, Senator Elgie Sims and the countless lawmakers and advocates who have fiercely fought to repeal this harmful law and keep vulnerable young people safe. I'll be proud to sign this legislation. I will not waver in the battle to protect reproductive rights."

The push to repeal the parental consent requirement has lately had a sudden sense of urgency among proponents. A new Texas law prohibits most abortions after a cardiac activity is detected — at about six weeks. And the U.S. Supreme Court will hear in December a challenge to a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks.

"There is another dimension to this now...," said Rep. Anna Moeller, an Elgin Democrat and sponsor of repeal legislation in the House. "I expect Texas-style laws will be coming to states near us. We're already surrounded by states that have very strict abortion-access laws. It will be this race to the bottom: Who can be the toughest on abortion until the Supreme Court weighs in?"

Moeller said earlier this month that she was talking to colleagues, counting votes and trying to persuade moderate Democrats. Democratic Sen. Elgie Sims of Chicago was behind the legislation in the Senate.

The 1995 law, adopted during the only legislative session in the past half-century that Republicans controlled both the House and Senate and the governor's office, did not take effect until 2013, after years of judicial challenges by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Since then, the number of abortions among minors has dropped 38%, to 1,092 in 2018, while abortions overall among Illinois residents remained steady, according to Illinois Department of Public Health statistics. The numbers in both categories have plummeted since the mid-90s; overall, sinking 25% from a high of 49,131 in 1996 while abortions among minors hit a high of 4,853 in 1995 and a low of 1,003 in 2017, a drop of 79%.

"It's a very commonsense law that actually transcends the abortion issue," said Amy Gehrke, executive director of Illinois Right to Life. "This has to do with the basic right of parents to be involved in their children's health care decisions. Here in Illinois ... minor girls can't get their ears pierced, they can't get a tattoo, they can't go to a tanning bed, they can't go on a school field trip, they can't even get an aspirin from the school nurse without their parents' explicit consent."

Gehrke stresses many misinterpret the Illinois law as requiring consent. It's simply notification to a parent, grandparent, or guardian. And it's the facility conducting the procedure, not the minor, who must provide the notice.

Of 38 states requiring parental involvement in a minor's abortion decision, 21 require parental consent — in three of those, both parents must consent, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

If a girl is in a family situation where notifying parents or other relatives would result in her harm, she may go to a judge who then decides whether she is mature and emotionally sound enough to decide for herself. That has happened 550 times since 2013, with a judge denying abortion access once, according to Brigid Leahy, senior director of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Illinois.

Gehrke and other pro-notice activists maintain that the judicial bypass allows a judge to identify minors who are abused or even victims of sex trafficking and get them the social services they need to extricate themselves. Their opponents contend judges are only there to decide the abortion question and have no involvement in saving minors from treachery.

Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the ACLU, whose Judicial Bypass Coordination Project assists girls seeking court intervention, said project lawyers have never experienced an instance where a child needed that kind of rescue, but that judges absolutely would intervene if needed.

That's reason enough to maintain the law, said Bob Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, which has been lobbying lawmakers to block repeal since the spring legislative session ended.

"If you limit this law, then what what's out there?" Gilligan asked. "Nothing. Is that good public policy?"

The ACLU issued a statement late Tuesday in support of the Senate vote:

"Over the last eight years, we have represented more than 575 young people who have been forced by this law to go to court seeking a judicial bypass because they knew they could not share their abortion decision with any of the designated family members. Ending this barrier for young people in Illinois is critical.

"We are especially pleased that a majority of senators saw through the argument that PNA is not about abortion, only about parental 'rights.' This is a fallacy. After all, the law only requires that young people share their decision about an abortion, not the decision to parent or place a baby for adoption. This has always been about deterring young people from access to abortion care, and nothing else."

Associated Press Political Writer John O'Connor contributed to this report.

(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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