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November 22, 2009

Will of the people ‘thwarted again’ Catholic activists dismayed by delay of parental notice law implementation

By Michelle Martin


Catholic and pro-life activists reacted with dismay Nov. 4 when a Cook County judge again delayed implementation of an Illinois law that would require at least one parent to be notified when a girl 17 or under intends to have an abortion.

The measure was passed by the Illinois legislature and signed into law by then-Gov. Jim Edgar in 1995.

“The will of the people is once again thwarted and Illinois law continues to fail to support parents in protecting their children,” said a statement released by the Catholic Conference of Illinois after enforcement of the Illinois Parental Notice of Abortion Act was delayed again, after being in effect briefly on Nov. 3.

“This common-sense regulation requires that a parent or legal guardian be notified by abortion doctors if their minor child seeks an abortion. The legislation enjoys strong public support in Illinois and nationally with polls showing approval at above 80 percent.”

The law as written requires abortion providers to notify a parent or guardian at least 48 hours before the procedure if a girl 17 years old or younger seeks an abortion, unless there is a medical emergency or if the girl says in writing that she has been the victim of sexual or physical abuse or neglect. If the girl does not want a parent to be notified, she can ask a judge for a confidential hearing within 48 hours to seek a judicial bypass.

Federal roadblock

The law was never implemented after its 1995 passage because a federal court barred its use, saying the Illinois Supreme Court had not written rules to allow an expedited and confidential appeal process for a girl whose request for a judicial bypass had been denied.

In July of this year, the Seventh Circuit Court Appeals lifted the injunction, but in August, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation granted doctors a 90-day “grace period” to set up notification procedures before the law would go into effect. That grace period expired Nov. 3. Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois filed a motion in Cook County Circuit Court, saying the law violates the constitutional rights of Illinois girls.

That was the motion Judge Daniel Riley ruled on when he issued a temporary restraining order blocking implementation of the law Nov. 4.

Constitution ‘silent’

Thomas Brejcha, president and chief council of the Thomas More Society Pro-Life Law Center, said he thinks the ACLU is trying to find rights in the Illinois constitution that its writers never intended to put there.

“They are saying that we have a stronger right to abortion than was created by Roe v. Wade,” Brejcha said. “The Illinois constitution is silent on abortion.”

All of the states surrounding Illinois have laws requiring girls under 18 to either notify or obtain consent from one or both parents before having an abortion, making the state an “abortion island” for out-of-state teens, Brejcha said.

Originally, when the law passed in 1995, pro-life activists were not happy with it, he said, because its provisions are weaker than those in other states, requiring notification rather than consent and allowing the provision to be avoided if the girl says she was abused.

As to statements from prochoice activists that most girls already involve their families, and that families who do not communicate cannot be forced to because of a law, Brejcha responded that the law’s value is more than coercive.

“It’s an expression of social values,” Brejcha said. “It promotes the idea that a parent should be involved when a girl is making such a decision.”

Besides, he said, the Illinois law is not strongly coercive anyway. Doctors who fail to notify are subject only to professional discipline, not criminal charges, and adults who impersonate a parent to circumvent the law can be charged only with a Class C misdemeanor.