By Tiffany Pryor, MSW, Executive Director, Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health
My heart dropped when I heard the news on July 13th, 2013. In just one month, a youth-targeted abortion law was going to be enforced — a law that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois had held off through litigation since 1995 — requiring that medical providers of youth under 18 notify a parent or guardian at least 48 hours before providing an abortion.
Fortunately, the ACLU had already set up a judicial bypass process that could spring into action for youth seeking an abortion, and we were ready to spearhead a movement to repeal this dangerous law.
Since that day, it hasn’t been easy. Only a few supportive legislators have been willing to listen to the stories of youth, the voices of parents, and the professional opinions of medical providers who oppose the law.
We’ve been working to raise awareness among Illinois residents and legislators, especially by centering the voices of young people. Youth say they usually seek out a trusted adult for support when they need an abortion, but it’s not always a parent. Every young person is in a different situation when they seek abortion care. For reasons of safety, fear of homelessness or violence, abuse, and neglect, it’s not ethical to require parental notification. Mandating communication is extremely intrusive into the lives of youth and their families, especially when all other reproductive health decisions may be kept confidential in Illinois.
Watching youth speak out has been one of the most rewarding parts of working toward repeal. For the past two years, youth leaders have been sharing stories, not just about trying to access abortion, but also what it’s like to talk about sex and sexuality with family members. Many of them have been in a difficult situation with parents or witnessed friends get kicked out of the house or hurt due to an unintended pregnancy. One adult youth worker shared the following story:
“One young person I know in my life was trying to seek an abortion after this [parental notification] law passed suddenly and her parents were notified. What ended up happening was they robbed her of all her money and now she's homeless. She's staying in one of our youth shelters. This is really important to me because she was forced to carry this pregnancy to term. And she loves her child, but because of this law, she was forced to be homeless and not have her family members to support her.”
There’s tremendous risk to youth when states have parental notification and consent laws in place. Currently, 38 states have these laws in effect. Only two states explicitly put consent in the hands of a young person. At ICAH, we believe ALL young people deserve to be safe, affirmed, and healthy. In the words of one of the youth leaders I work with, “I am a maturing adult... let me be. Don't judge me, just watch me grow.”
For more information, visit http://stoppna.org/.