In December, the Journal Of Adolescent Health published a study analyzing the impact of Illinois' pro-life parental involvement law which took effect in 2013. The media spin is the parental involvement law purportedly had no impact on the decisional certainty of girls who obtained abortions. Additionally, some media reports indicate the law had little impact on the amount of parental support for minors who had abortions. This study has been covered by a number of media outlets including Reuters, Elite Daily, and Think Progress.
When this law took effect in 2013, Illinois became the 38th state to enforce a pro-life parental involvement law. The law was actually passed by the state legislature and signed by the Governor back in 1995. However, legal challenges delayed the enforcement of the law for 18 years. Still, the enforcement of the law was an important victory for pro-lifers. For a long time, Illinois was the only state in the Midwest that was not enforcing a parental involvement law. As such, the state became an abortion magnet for minors seeking to circumvent parental involvement laws in nearby states.
The study considers data from only one abortion facility in southern Illinois. However, it includes data on 538 minors who obtained abortions over a three year timespan. The results are instructive. Most importantly, the number of abortions performed on minors fell by 29 percent in the year after the law took effect. Considering that all other midwestern states are enforcing parental involvement laws, it seems unlikely that a large number of Illinois minors are obtaining abortions in other states. Additionally, the percentage of minors who involved a parent in their abortion decision increased from 71 percent to 93 percent after the law took effect.
Interestingly, the study finds that after the law took effect, only 1.4 percent of minors obtained judicial bypass and did not have to involve their parents. Judicial bypass provisions are included in nearly all parental involvement laws and allow minors in abusive situations to receive permission to obtain an abortion from a judge. Some pro-lifers have criticized the enforcement of judicial bypass provisions -- stating that they make it too easy for minor girls to obtain abortions. However, this study shows few Illinois minors utilize this option.
Opponents of parental involvement laws often argue that they result in minors obtaining abortions later in pregnancy. However, the enactment of the Illinois parental involvement law did not significantly change the mean gestational age at which abortions performed on minors took place. Furthermore, there was only a slight increase in the percentage of abortions that took place in the second trimester. Many media outlets are making much of the fact that the parental involvement law did not improve the decisional certainty of minors who sought abortions. However, the percentage of minors who felt" very sure" of their decision fell only slightly – from 77 percent to 71 percent.
Parental involvement laws have been an important incremental strategy for pro-lifers. Thirty eight states have parental involvement laws in effect and state level parental involvement laws have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court on a number of occasions. Peer reviewed studies have found that parental involvement laws reduce both teen suicide rates and teen STD rates. Most importantly, this study adds to a substantial body of public health research which shows parental involvement laws protect both minors and their unborn children by reducing the incidence of abortion among minors.
Originally posted at the Illinois Review.
Michael J. New is an Associate Professor of Economics at Ave Maria University and an Associate Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New.