As an abortion provider, I regularly treat teenage girls who are looking to terminate a pregnancy. The teenage girls I see are smart, independent and resourceful young women. They know what they want: an education, an opportunity and a future. They know what they don’t want at this point in their life: a baby.
Most of the young women in my practice involve a parent or trusted adult in their decision to abort. And the younger the teenager, the more likely she is to involve an adult. These facts are true in my office and throughout Illinois. Those who do not involve an adult do so for good reasons – often because they are survivors of abuse or neglect. Some fear for their safety or the loss of shelter and food if their parents find out about their pregnancy or their decision to abort. Others think that they will be forced to continue a pregnancy that they did not plan and do not want.
For these teens, the Illinois Parental Notice of Abortion Act is a dangerous law that puts them and their personal decisions at risk. Those who cannot inform a parent, step-parent, grandparent or guardian are forced to obtain a legal circumvention, to appear before a judge, to prove their maturity and to justify their decision of abortion.
My adolescent patients who choose to seek legal circumvention are not only strong, independent and resourceful, but above all courageous.
I was dealing with a teenage girl who feared she would be the victim of an honor killing at the hands of religious family members for having premarital sex. I took care of a teenager who took two buses and a suburban train to go to court. She feared that she would be evicted from the house if her parents knew she was pregnant. I was taking care of a teenage girl raised by a strict single father who feared an even more strained relationship if her pregnancy came to light.
These young women went through the complex process of legal circumvention to obtain an abortion without notifying a parent or guardian. These young women were able to navigate the system with grace and aplomb. But they shouldn’t have to.
When I take care of the teens who have been to court, I tell them how brave they are, how proud they should be of their strength and persistence. But it’s not the young women that worry me, the young women who prevent me from sleeping at night. I’m worried about anyone who can’t come forward because of the parental notice requirement. I worry about all the young women who never show up to court, those who face violence at home or homelessness on the streets, those who have become mothers against their will. We owe a lot more to our young people. In fact, abortion is their right.
And consider the rights of pregnant and parenting adolescents at all ages. They have the right to consent to any surgery other than abortion – a cesarean section, appendectomy, or open heart surgery for a newborn son or daughter. Why, then, does abortion require a higher level of parental involvement? While Illinois teens are mature enough to make other medical decisions for themselves and their children, the parental notice requirement only serves to limit the bodily autonomy of Illinois teens.
I am a doctor, but I am also the mother of two teenage daughters. Of course, I want my daughters to come to me if they are facing unwanted and unwanted pregnancy. But my children are not in danger and would not be if they were pregnant and seeking an abortion. As we think about the cruelty of this law, we must think beyond our own children and consider those who are in danger.
We must repeal the dangerous Illinois parental abortion notice.
Allison Cowett, MD MPH, is an abortion and contraception obstetrician-gynecologist in Chicago. She is the medical director of the Family Planning Associates Medical Group, one of the largest independent abortion centers in the country.
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