The Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch are urging lawmakers to repeal a law requiring a minor to notify their parent or other legal guardian before receiving an abortion, arguing in a report to be released Thursday the law is “harmful” to the health and safety of young Illinoisans.

The report, titled “The Only People It Really Affects Are the People It Hurts: The Human Rights Impacts of Parental Notice of Abortion in Illinois,” will be released Thursday and focuses on the Parental Notice of Abortion Act as well as the effect it’s had on young people who have sought abortions since it went into effect in 2013.

Margaret Wurth, the lead author of the report, said the law “causes real harm” to those who are under 18 and seeking an abortion.

“The title of our report comes from a quote from a young person I interviewed and it fits this law exactly — most people do voluntarily involve a parent or trusted adult, but, the young people who don’t have those kinds of relationships are the ones this law hurts the most,” said Wurth, who is also a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, an international advocacy and investigative organization.

“For me, the real takeaway is that this violates people’s rights and it causes real harm. It’s a human rights imperative to repeal it.”

In her interviews for the 73-page report, Wurth said she was surprised by “the cruelty and humiliation” that young people faced in the process of trying to get an abortion.

Wurth talked to social workers who told her stories about parents or guardians intervening to prevent their child from having an abortion, humiliating them or, in the case of one minor who did have an abortion, leaving them at the clinic without a ride home.

Illinois is one of 37 states that have parental involvement laws, but is one of a few states on that list where abortion care is “relatively accessible,” Wurth said.

State Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, and state Rep. Anna Moeller, D-Elgin, introduced measures in their respective chambers to repeal the law, something Wurth said lawmakers seem committed to doing before the end of May. A bill seeking to repeal the law was introduced in 2019, but didn’t pass.

State Rep. Anna Moeller, left, in 2018; State Sen. Elgie Sims, right, last month.
Rich Hein; Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

The Parental Notice of Abortion Act, which went into effect in 2013, requires a doctor providing care to a young person under age 18 who is seeking an abortion in the state to notify a designated adult family member — which could be a parent, grandparent, a step-parent living in the home or a legal guardian — at least 48 hours before the procedure.

The minor has the option of going to court to ask a judge for a waiver so they can have the procedure without family involvement in a process known as “judicial bypass.”

The person seeking an abortion has to give testimony, explain the circumstances of their pregnancy and give other details, such as who they spoke to during their decision-making process.

The conservative Thomas More Society waged the initial legal fight for implementation and later against repeal of the notification law, which has the support of anti-abortion groups.

“Prior to this law, a school counselor could not take a child on a school field trip without parental consent; however, that same school counselor could place a minor girl in a cab and send her to an abortion clinic for a serious surgical procedure without telling her parents,” Illinois Right to Life argues on its website. “Similarly, underage girls couldn’t be prescribed Tylenol by a school nurse without parental consent but these girls could receive an invasive medical procedure without their parents’ knowledge.”

But Emily Werth, an ACLU staff attorney who has worked on judicial bypass cases and shared data with Wurth for the report, said the ACLU has represented about 500 young people in the “stressful and challenging” legal bypass process since the law went into effect.

“A majority of young people involve their parents in this process because those are the trusted folks in their lives and that’s who they go to, then there is a small number for whom involving their parents is not safe and those are the people who are impacted by this law,” Werth said.

“State law allows young people to make all other decisions during pregnancy … at the end of the day there are young people who are being harmed because this law exists and it’s our duty to get rid of this harmful law that puts them at risk.”