As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who works with young people seeking abortion, I see firsthand the harm created by the Parental Notification of Abortion Act (PNA). PNA requires a health care provider like Planned Parenthood of Illinois to notify an adult family member (parent, grandparent, step-parent living in the home, or legal guardian) prior to performing an abortion for a patient under 18-years-old.
In truth, the vast majority of young people seeking an abortion already involve a trusted adult. The small but vulnerable number of young people who can not notify an adult are forced to get a judicial bypass, an alternative to parental notice. Since PNA was enacted, judges have ruled that more than 99% of minors are mature enough to make the decision independently. PNA causes unnecessary stress on young people, an unnecessary burden on our legal system, and ignores the fact that you can not force improved family communication via state law.
All PNA really does is delay access to essential health care.
There are a number of reasons a young person cannot tell a family member they want to get an abortion. Recently, I worked with a minor who was separated from their family at the United States/Mexico border by the Trump administration and was in a detention center in Chicago. In this situation, there was no physical way of contacting a family member because the young person didn’t know where they were. I’ve also worked with teens seeking a judicial bypass alternative to parental notice because they are at risk of homelessness, physical violence, or being ostracized by their community if they involve their family in their decision.
If a minor can’t tell any adult about their abortion, my first concern is to make sure they are safe in their home environment. Because they are already facing significant barriers, I then connect them with the ACLU, which runs the free Illinois Judicial Bypass Coordination Project. This amazing program helps young people navigate the legal system they are forced into.
Informing a young person they need to see a judge in order to get permission to have an abortion is incredibly stressful. There are logistical hurdles to consider, such as getting away from school or home during business hours to prepare with their attorney and appear before the judge in person, or having adequate internet access to appear virtually. It can also be difficult for young people to find privacy in their home. I’ve had young people need to use my office in order to have reliable internet access and privacy. It’s also intimidating and difficult to be required to share intimate details of your life with a stranger, especially a judge.
We need to trust young people to make their own health care decisions. Currently, in Illinois, a pregnant minor can decide whether to continue the pregnancy and give birth, give consent to far riskier medical care such as a cesarean section, or place a child for adoption—all without an adult family member’s consent.
Only when a young person decides to seek abortion does the government force them to involve their family, which feels like it is more about restricting abortion access than protecting young people.