My 16-year-old daughter and I recently celebrated a rite of passage: she had her ears pierced. We drove to the shopping mall, she picked out a pretty pair of gold studs, and I was presented with permission papers and consent forms. After I had signed these forms (in triplicate), my daughter and I were given instructions on how to properly clean her ears and what we should do if an infection developed.
As the mother of three teenage daughters, I am well aware of the vast number of routine procedures like my daughter’s pierced ears — and activities — like participation in a field trip — that require parental involvement and consent. Knowing how the law strives to protect minors, I was shocked to see the Chicago Sun-Times’ editorial endorsing the elimination of the Illinois Parental Notification of Abortion Act. (“Repeal law that requires parents to be notified when a minor seeks an abortion,” Feb. 7.) Illinois law currently requires that an adult family member be notified by a physician or his or her agent whenever a minor seeks an abortion — although the actual permission and consent of a parent is not required.
As the editorial points out, some young girls with less-than-ideal parents may want to avoid their parents being informed for fear of abandonment or, even worse, a violent reaction. Many note the current law allows for a minor to ask a judge to waive notification, but few realize the same law offers refuge to an abused or neglected teen even before she steps before a judge. The existing law allows for four exceptions, one of which automatically exempts a minor who states that she is a victim of sexual abuse, neglect or physical abuse by an adult family member.
The horrifying case of Chicago’s Tonya Reaves, who died after a second trimester abortion at a Chicago area Planned Parenthood clinic, while not necessarily reflective of Illinois abortion clinics as a whole, nevertheless underscores the fact that surgical abortions are invasive, irreversible and come with risks. And non-surgical terminations, like abortion pills, can leave a young girl with excruciating cramps and heavy bleeding for days — and the possibility of her passing her baby’s remains anywhere — including at school. Parents need to be included in their daughters’ abortion decisions if for no other reason than to monitor them for complications post-procedure.
Moreover, brain science is clear that teenage brains work differently from adult brains. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry notes that teenagers do not have a fully functioning frontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls decision-making and helps adults to contemplate consequences of risky behaviors. It’s one of the reasons that car insurance rates are much higher for teenagers than for adults over 25, since the part of the brain that affects risk-taking isn’t fully developed until that time.
Finally, abortion notification laws serve as an extra layer of protection for girls against predatory men engaged in sex trafficking or prostitution rings. According to the anti-trafficking organization Save the Children, almost 30% of sex-trafficking victims are children and two-thirds of them are young girls. When abortion clinic staff are required to notify a parent or guardian, they can help ensure that the minor is not being coerced into having the abortion by a trafficker, an older male partner who would fall within the statutory rape definition, or an abusive family member.
Eliminating the Parental Notice Law strips away critical protections for young girls and enables predatory men. The law is not just common sense, it is necessary. To repeal it would be a tragic mistake, one leaving Illinois teenagers vulnerable to coercion, abuse, manipulation, physical trauma, and a lack of emotional support at the very time they need it most.
Mary Hallan FioRito is an attorney, the mother of three teenage girls, and the Cardinal Francis George Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.