As both sides of the abortion debate await a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could overturn Roe v. Wade and return the issue to the states, Illinois lawmakers have moved forward with expanding abortion access for underage girls without parental notification or consent.
A repeal of Illinois' Parental Notice of Abortion Act went into effect on Wednesday, meaning an underage pregnant girl can now undergo an abortion without her parent or guardians' knowledge.
The original 1995 law did not go into effect until 2013, after years of litigation. It required girls to notify their parents before having an abortion. However, the notification requirement could be waived if teenagers met privately with a judge and obtained a judicial bypass.
The state House and Senate voted to enact the Youth Health and Safety Act in October, which repealed the parental notification law. In December, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the new act into law, calling it "dangerous" to require girls to inform their parents about their pregnancy, claiming they could face homelessness or abuse.
Amy Gehrke, executive director of Illinois Right to Life, a Chicago-based organization that advocates against abortion, told The Christian Post they are "appalled" by the law's repeal.
"Gov. Pritzker has told the parents of Illinois that they don't matter and has completely trampled on their rights to be involved in the health decisions of their minor daughters," she said in an interview with CP. "We know that human traffickers and other sexual predators often cover their crimes with abortion. And our Legislature, along with Gov. Pritzker, has given these abusers carte blanche to continue abusing our girls."
Gehrke also noted that the original parental notification law already had safeguards to protect abuse victims. If a girl declared in writing that she was the victim of physical or sexual abuse, the law required abortionists to certify in the girl's medical record they received the notification of abuse.
The judicial bypass option under the original law to override the parental notification requirement served as a potential safeguard for abuse victims, she added. By having a confidential meeting with a judge, girls had the opportunity to tell someone about their situation and seek help.
The executive director of the Chicago-based pro-life group said the decision to repeal the law is proof that Pritzker and Illinois legislators care more about "placating the abortion industry than the will of their constituents."
A March 2021 poll commissioned by the Illinois Family Institute alongside several other groups and conducted by The Tarrance Group polling firm assessed the views of 600 registered Illinois voters. In a poll where 37% of participants identified as pro-life, 72% of respondents said they were in favor of the Parental Notification of Abortion Law.
"This is actually an issue that transcends abortion, and it goes to the heart of parents' rights and protecting young girls from those who would seek to do them harm by covering their crimes with abortion," Gehrke said.
In October, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois released a statement supporting the repeal of Illinois' parental notification law. The advocacy group asserted there is "no evidence" parental notice laws protect minors who are victims of trafficking, citing a letter released by anti-human trafficking organizations making similar claims.
"This specious argument is being advanced by those who have long promoted parental notice and other limitations on access to abortion care in the state of Illinois," Emily Werth, a lawyer with the ACLU of Illinois, said in the group's statement. "To use the lives of young people who have experienced trafficking in a desperate attempt to maintain dangerous anti-abortion policies in the state of Illinois is the height of hypocrisy."
A 2014 study published by Annals of Health Law found that 55% of sex trafficking victims were forced to undergo abortions, with 30% being forced to have more than one. One survivor told the study authors her trafficker took her to Planned Parenthood for one of her six abortions "because they didn't ask any questions."
Brook Bello, founder and CEO of More Too Life, an organization that assists former human trafficking victims, argued in favor of the law during a March 15 press conference organized by Parents for the Protection of Girls, a coalition of organizations that supported the parental notice law in Illinois.
The CEO was raped when she was 11 years old and trafficked from the age of 13.
"Our traffickers made us get abortions," Bello said. "Had our parents been notified, my mother would have known what city I was in, what street I was on."
In addition to potentially rescuing minors from trafficking, Bello said parental notification laws ensure parents are aware of medical complications that could result from their child undergoing an abortion.
The multiple abortions Bello's traffickers forced her to have irreversibly damaged her fertility. She believes this outcome could have been prevented if her parents had been notified about her abortions.
The repeal of Illinois' parental notice law comes as the Supreme Court considers whether to uphold Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban, which could give states the ability to enact pre-viability abortion restrictions, undermining Roe. The court is expected to issue a ruling sometime this month.
According to a May 2 Politico report, a leaked draft opinion shows that a majority of the justices might be leaning toward reversing Roe. A statement the following day by the court verified the authenticity of the draft opinion but also said the draft does not reflect the final ruling.
Illinois is among 16 states that have over the years enshrined abortion access in case Roe is overturned. According to Illinois.gov, over 46,000 abortions took place in Illinois in 2020, and over 1,000 were done on girls ages 15 to 17.