On August 15th, Illinois’ Parental Notice of Abortion Act went into effect. Under the Act, health care providers are required to notify an adult family member (defined as a parent, grandparent, stepparent who lives with the minor or legal guardian) 48 hours before performing an abortion for a patient who is under 18.

This law has some important implications for doctors and other health care providers and their ability to care for patients considering abortion who are under 18. While most young women  involve a trusted adult in their decisions about unintended pregnancies, those who don’t usually have very good reasons – including fear of abuse, being thrown out of their home or being forced to carry a pregnancy to term against their will. Providing care appropriately and sensitively to young women facing unintended pregnancy and considering their options requires an understanding of this new law.

Importantly, the law requires notice, not consent. An adult family member must be informed of the minor’s decision to have an abortion, but they cannot refuse permission or legally prevent the minor from effectuating her decision to have an abortion. An adult family member is defined  as a  parent, grandparent, stepparent who lives with the minor  or a legal guardian. Only the stepparent is required to actually live with the minor, and the provider is only required to notify one of these individuals.

The law requires “actual notice.” The abortion provider must notify an adult family member in person or by phone of the young woman’s intention to terminate her pregnancy 48 hours before initiating the procedure. If after reasonable efforts, the provider is unable to provide actual notice, the provider may send a certified letter which is deemed delivered after 48 hours. The provider then must wait an additional 48 hours before performing the abortion.

If a physician other than the abortion provider has already given notice, the abortion provider need not do so again but must still wait 48 hours after such notice before performing  the abortion. A letter for referring physicians certifying that notice has been given is available at www.ilbypasscoordinationproject.org/resources.

There are a number of important exceptions to the notice requirement. First, if a minor is accompanied by a qualifying adult family member (parent, grandparent, stepparent who lives with the minor or legal guardian), the notice requirement (and 48-hour delay) is waived. If an adult family member waives notice in writing, the provider may proceed without notification or delay. A sample letter is available at www.ilbypasscoordinationproject.org/resources. It is a Class C misdemeanor for someone who is not an adult family member as defined in the Act to sign a written waiver of notice.

If the minor provides a written statement that indicates she is the victim of physical or sexual abuse or neglect by an adult family member, notice is not required. The health care provider must meet all mandated reporting requirements but may wait until after the abortion to do so. Notice and delay are also not required if the minor is married, divorced or widowed, if the minor has been legally emancipated, or if the provider determines that there is a medical emergency as defined in the Act.

Finally, notice is not required if a minor obtains a judicial waiver of the notice requirement.  The law sets up a judicial waiver process that permits young women to go to court to demonstrate that they are mature and well enough informed to make a decision to terminate their pregnancy without forced involvement of one of the adult family members identified in the Act OR that it is not in their best interest to notify an adult family member.

Physicians who in good faith give notice in accordance with the Act’s requirements, or rely on one of the Act’s exceptions to notice, are protected by a statutory immunity provision.  If they fail to comply with the Act, physicians are subject to professional discipline.

The ACLU of Illinois has created a hotline to provide information about the Illinois parental notice of abortion law and to connect young women with free, trained attorneys who can help them obtain a judicial waiver should they need one. Young women seeking information or in need of a free attorney may call 1-877-442-9727, text 312-560-6607, email judicialbypass@aclu-il.org or visit our website at www.ilbypasscoordinationproject.org.

The ACLU of Illinois has model forms and resources for health care providers, youth-focused materials for youth-serving organizations and general educational materials about the parental notice law. The ACLU has provided numerous trainings about the law for health care providers and can arrange for additional trainings for interested groups. Please contact Emily Werth for more information about trainings and materials at ewerth@aclu-il.org or by calling 312-201-9740.

This law creates difficult barriers for young women facing unintended pregnancies and for reproductive health care providers who work with them. The ACLU will continue to work to ensure these young women are able to make and effectuate their decisions about their reproductive health care.
 

This article originally appeared in Chicago Medicine Magazine.

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