Author: Esther Bier, MPH candidate in Community Health Sciences and Maternal and Child Health
Illinois is an island in the Midwest for abortion access. Surrounding states such as Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Kansas, and Michigan all have more restrictive abortion legislation than Illinois. Wisconsin mandates state-sanction counseling and a 24-hour waiting period before someone can terminate their pregnancy1. Indiana recently outlawed the common and safe second-trimester abortion procedure called dilation and evacuation while permitting medical providers to refuse to participate in abortion care services2. Meanwhile, a recent bill in Ohio would ban almost all private insurance policies from covering abortion care3. And in Michigan, telemedicine is prohibited from managing medical abortions – an issue critical for rural and poorer pregnant people4. Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin all require that a parent or guardian give a minor permission to have an abortion. Kansas and Minnesota require parental consent from both parents5. Considering the sea of abortion restrictions in states surrounding Illinois, it is no wonder that more than 5,500 out-of-state pregnant people travelled to Illinois to receive abortion care in 20176.
In contrast, a person can receive an abortion in Illinois without completing state-mandated counseling, a 24-72 hour waiting period, or a government-required ultrasound. Crucially, while minors are not required to provide parental consent to access abortion, they are required to give notice to a parent, legal guardian, grandparent, or stepparent. On the surface, such a policy may seem reasonable, with the intention of improving communication and support between parents and children. If minors need parental support to attend a field trip or fill a cavity, surely they should be required to consult a parent about their choice to have an abortion. Many supporters of the law use their own children and their hypothetical pregnancies to bolster their support: “I would want my child to talk to me, wouldn’t you?” or “I should be involved in my child’s healthcare, as is every parent’s right”.
While such simplistic statements seem reasonable on the surface, one must consider the law’s dangerous implications. Minors who feel comfortable discussing their desire for an abortion with a parent do not need a law forcing them to do so. Conversely, minors who feel unsafe telling a parent they are pregnant and obtaining an abortion likely feel scared for legitimate reasons. Minors might fear violence or abandonment from a parent if they are discovered to be pregnant. They might be kicked out from home. They might fear retaliation in the form of economic abuse or neglect. Consider the fact that state-mandated dialogue between minors and their parents do not yield a supporting and communicative relationship. The state of Illinois is therefore placing these minors in highly unsafe terrain by forcing them to tell their parent or guardian that they are pregnant.
Enter the Judicial Bypass Coordination Project by the ACLU of Illinois. Minors who do not qualify for a legal (like if they are married) or medical emergency exception can have the parental notification requirement waived by a judge. The ACLU provides free legal services to minors who seek such waivers as well as a hotline service for callers to receive information about the program. I am a volunteer on this hotline every other week for two and a half hours. Volunteers are trained to understand the details of the parental notification law as well as how to discuss such intricacies for young people likely in the midst of a lonely and scary struggle. While receiving a legitimate phone call from a minor looking for legal services is uncommon during my shifts, it is important that the hotline exists and is ready to provide answers to pregnant people and their significant others in need.
I recently attending the ACLU of Illinois annual luncheon to celebrate their successes and the legal battles ahead. The hotel ballroom was packed with roughly two thousand people and a stage filled with headliner performances. Speech topics ranged from immigration to trans rights to voting access. In my own experience, abortion is not directly mentioned in large gathering such as this; lesser charged language such as “women’s rights” or “reproductive freedom” is used. I was therefore surprised when multiple speakers directly mentioned abortion access as a current and pressing issue for the ACLU. Representative Jan Schakowsky spoke passionately about repealing the Hyde Amendment (the federal law that bans federal money from paying for abortions) and making abortion care more accessible. She received a round of applause when she said that “Roe was not the beginning of abortion in the US, it was the end of women dying from abortion.” Similarly, Colleen Connell, the executive director of ACLU of Illinois, spoke of the nation-wide attempt to reverse Roe – the very law that allowed so many people access to jobs, income, and professional development. Roe underpins the right to access appropriate medical services, to raise or not raise a child, and to bodily autonomy and education. Reversing Roe would signal an end to personal freedom and devaluation for all people who can become pregnant.
This is why I volunteer for the Judicial Bypass hotline and the ACLU: everyone deserves the right to live the life they chose. Access to healthcare and insurance should not be dependent on one’s zip code and immigration status. Everyone should enjoy bodily autonomy, regardless of age. If there is one concept I have learned during my first year as an master of public health student, it is that the health of an individual impacts the health of the larger society. When people are given the tools to succeed, their communities prosper and their health outcomes improve. This is what public health is fighting for and why I am in the fight for the long haul.
- Carafem. Abortion Access in Wisconsin. Carafem Web site. https://carafem.org/abortion-access-in-wisconsin/. Updated 2019. Accessed May 13, 2019.
- Gupta P. Indiana Strikes a Blow to the Heart of Abortion Access. The Slot Web site. https://theslot.jezebel.com/indiana-strikes-a-blow-to-the-heart-of-abortion-access-1834303489. Updated 2019. Accessed May 13, 2019.
- North A. The Controversial Abortion Bills Sweep the Country this Week, Explained. Vox Web site. https://www.vox.com/2019/5/10/18564436/ohio-abortion-bill-law-alabama-georgia-details. Updated 2019. Accessed May 13, 2019.
- Guttmacher Institute. State Facts about Abortion: Michigan. 2018. https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/state-facts-about-abortion-michigan.
- Planned Parenthood. Parental Consent and Notification Laws. 2019. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/teens/preventing-pregnancy-stds/parental-consent-and-notification-laws.
- Leventis Lourgos A. More than 5,500 Women came to Illinois to have an Abortion Last Year Amid Growing Restrictions in the Midwest. The Chicago Tribune. November 20 2018. Available from: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-met-abortion-numbers-illinois-out-of-state-20181129-story.html.