The ACLU of Illinois has worked for decades through the courts and in the legislature to ensure that Illinois remains an oasis for basic reproductive health care in the Midwest, including abortion. A Chicago Tribune article profiled four women who travelled to Illinois to obtain abortions because of restrictions that limited their ability to access this medical procedure in their home states. One of these was a teenager who sought what is known as a “judicial bypass” to be able to obtain an abortion in Illinois without her parents being notified, after she was informed that the process of getting this court waiver would be too difficult where she lived in Ohio. 

She was known only as Jane Doe, as far as the courts were concerned. 

The young woman, just two months from her 18th birthday, spoke a little shakily as she told her story to the judge at the Daley Center in winter 2015, each word punctuated by the click of the stenographer’s keys. The transcript and any other records from the proceeding would be sealed.

“It was a highly potentially dangerous situation for me, for my parents to know about this, especially my father,” the teen from Ohio recalled telling the judge. “I was afraid that I would be hurt physically by my mother and then disowned completely by my father.”

The petite teen with long blond hair was embarrassed to be in a new, big city telling a stranger she was a little over eight weeks pregnant and decided to terminate. The high school student had bought her bus ticket to Chicago with a gift card, leaving no paper trail of her five-hour trip.

Her parents thought she was sleeping over at the home of a friend.

“It can be anyone,” said the teen, who asked to tell her story anonymously because her parents don’t know about her abortion. “It’s the girl who has straight A’s. It’s the girl who has a conservative family. It could very well be your daughter, your niece, your granddaughter.”

Illinois requires that minors notify a parent, grandparent, stepparent who lives in the home, or legal guardian before having an abortion, though the law does not mandate parental permission as is the case is some states. If a young woman doesn’t want a parent or other family member to find out, she has the legal right to request a waiver of parental notice. This process is known as judicial bypass, granted in Illinois if a judge either deems the minor mature and well-informed or finds that notification would not be in her best interest. 

While the number of young women who seek judicial bypass statewide is unknown due to strict confidentiality, “the vast, vast majority of petitions in Illinois are approved,” said Emily Werth, Judicial Bypass Coordination Project staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which offers free legal representation to these minors.

She estimates that 5 to 10 percent of clients come from out of state. “It is not surprising, given the restrictions in their home states,” Werth said.

The 17-year-old from Ohio remembers the judge’s voice was soothing and compassionate. The waiver was granted.

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