Judge delays abortion notification

By The Columbia Chronicle

Enforcement of a parental notification law for minors seeking an abortion in Illinois remains on hold, probably until sometime early next year.

During a Nov. 19 hearing, a Cook County Circuit Court judge sustained a temporary restraining order against enforcement despite the arguments of three attorneys from the Thomas More Society, an anti-abortion, nonprofit law firm, who support the law.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, Hope Clinic for Women and Dr. Allison Cowett of the clinic were granted a temporary restraining order earlier in November against the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

The court order is in response to an injunction lifted from the original 1995 law that required Illinois doctors to notify a parent before a minor seeks an abortion. Hours before a Cook County judge issued the restraining order, a state agency had given its approval to the enforcement. The 1995 law stated that girls under the age of 18 must give a parent notification 48 hours before receiving an abortion. No notification is required if there is a medical emergency or the girl states in writing that she is the victim of sexual abuse. Physicians must give notification in person or over the phone.

In a filing asking for continued abeyance of enforcement, Cowett states that among her patients “are unemancipated women under the age of 18 who need abortions and for a host of reasons, cannot involve their parents.”

The original law was never enforced. A judge granted a 90-day grace period last August after a federal appeals court lifted an injunction on the 1995 law.

With the restraining order still in place, all pregnant minors in Illinois are allowed to make any medical decisions on their own. The decisions can range from taking medications to having a cesarean section performed.

According to the ACLU, in 2008, 47,000 Illinois women had abortions. Ten percent of those were minors.

Abortion rights have been a hot topic in the U.S. for decades, and the new hearings have not changed that. Both anti-abortion and abortion rights groups have been arguing their stance on the new changes that could come. But some say the notification issue is not about one side versus the other.

“[It’s] just outrageous. This is not a pro-choice or pro-life issue. It is a matter of having parental involvement in a child’s life,” said Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society.

Those in favor of allowing enforcement claim that it is key to have parents involved in the decision process, and it will also help girls who live in states surrounding Illinois. Currently, all of the Midwest states, except Illinois, must have parental notification or consent. Some anti-abortion advocates claim that girls from other states often drive to Illinois to have an abortion without talking it over with their parents. The advocates believe that parents should be entitled to weigh in on the issue and discuss it with their daughter.

“This was a law passed in 1995. It is favored on a national level by 80 percent of the country,” Brejcha said.

But those opposed to enforcing the 1995 law claim minors will find other ways to get an abortion and in some cases, seek out unsafe medical procedures. The critics also claim that those in favor of enforcement do not understand that these girls are mature enough to make their own decisions and that many come from broken homes.

“[Many of these] girls have a pretty good reason for not wanting to tell their parents,” said Edwin Yohnka,  communications  director of the Illinois ACLU, “A lot of the girls come from broken families; they can become victims once an abusive mother or father learns that their daughter has become pregnant. They are ostracized.”

Yohnka also claims that notification and consent are one in the same.

“Once that initial notification is made, there are things parents can do to stop their daughter from seeking an abortion,” he said. “They can take the keys to her car away or ground her. It could be too late for her to receive the safest procedure she can get.”

The next hearing is set for Jan. 19, 2010. The Thomas More Society will be asking the judge to reconsider and put the original law into effect. The ACLU and The Hope Clinic will be asking for a permanent injunction.

If the enforcement goes into effect, critics say that the courts will not be prepared to handle the flood of petitions. Illinois civil rights groups have been preparing and training lawyers on what to expect if the law changes over.

By Stephanie Saviola