SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Democrats are one step closer to repealing legislation requiring that a minor consult her parent or guardian before getting an abortion.
The bill, sponsored by Chicago Sen. Elgie Sims, Jr., passed out of a Senate committee Tuesday without Republican support after about an hour of testimonies and debate.
Sims said the goal of his measure was not to “attack the role between parents and children,” as was suggested during the hearing, but to encourage families to have “authentic conversations.”
“This bill is not an anti-family bill, it is a pro-family bill,” he said. “We cannot have and force inauthentic conversations between families. The State of Illinois has no place.”
It would strike from state law the Parental Notification of Abortion Act of 1995, which requires a minor inform her parent or guardian of her intention to get an abortion. It does provide a minor an avenue to petition a circuit court to issue a waiver of that notification if she does not feel safe, for example, having a conversation with her parent or guardian.
And there are exceptions for a minor if she is a victim of sexual abuse or neglect by an adult family member.
Part of the General Assembly’s interest in passing the Act, the body wrote, is that “Parental consultation is usually in the best interest of the minor and is desirable since the capacity to become pregnant and the capacity for mature judgment concerning the wisdom of an abortion are not necessarily related.”
The law took effect only about five years ago after having been tied up in the courts.
But proponents of repealing it, such as Hannah Baity, call the Act “extremely dangerous.” Baity is a youth organizer with the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, and testified in the Senate committee Tuesday.
She told lawmakers not every teenager has a secure relationship with her parent, and they “cannot legislate healthy parent-child communications.”
The law’s other option, for a minor to ask a judge for permission to get an abortion, is not a viable alternative, but “an unnecessary hurdle for them,” said Susan Fox Gillis, a retired associate judge on the Cook Judicial Circuit Court.
Gillis told lawmakers she was one of two original judges who heard these cases, called judicial bypass hearings.
“That law, in my experience as a judge tasked with deciding on these waivers, is unnecessary, overly punitive and places burdens on young women seeking health care. It should be repealed,” she said. “Each of the young women who came before me had a good reason for not sharing her decision with a parent.”
Those extra barriers are not inherently bad, though, Sen. Jason Plummer, a Republican from Edwardsville, said.
“We’re talking about the termination of a life, right,” he said. “And so, for there to be maybe a hurdle or two there, I don’t think as a society is necessarily the worst thing because … we’re talking about the termination of a heartbeat, and that’s a significant concern of mine.”
Dawn Fitzpatrick, who works for the Archdiocese of Chicago, said the argument against repealing the law extends beyond the typical framing of “the pro-life, pro-choice distinction” and politics.
As a parent, she said, “the only question is simply, should parents know” their child plans to get an abortion.
The committee hearing began late, and debate put the meeting over its allotted time. Chairwoman Patricia Van Pelt, a Democratic senator from Chicago, cut the Republican legislators’ questions short to allow the committee to vote on Sims’ bill. The final tally was 8 to 4, along party lines.
This legislative effort, Senate Bill 1594, is the first in a package of reproductive health measures proposed by Democrats in both chambers to receive a hearing in front of lawmakers. Its twin version is House Bill 2467.
The other initiative would repeal Illinois’ abortion law and replace it with what backers and detractors say would be the most progressive reproductive health legislation in the nation. It is Senate Bill 1942 and House Bill 2495.
The group of bills was announced by the sponsors — Sens. Sims and Melinda Bush, from Grayslake, and Reps. Kelly Cassidy, from Chicago, and Emanuel Chris Welch, from Hillside — at a news event at the American Civil Liberties Union headquarters in Chicago in early February.
ACLU Executive Director Colleen Connell called the Notification Act “dangerous” in a written statement, and said she looks forward to the full Senate passing Sims’ bill.
“Family communications cannot be mandated by law, they flow from trust and shared values among family members. A young person who does not want to communicate with a parent has a very good reason,” Connell said. “We need to trust youth in our state to make the health care decisions, without forcing them to risk their health and safety.”
Jennifer Welch, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said in a statement that the committee’s vote Tuesday “shows that Illinois is ready to trust young people to have agency over their bodies. I’m optimistic that SB 1594 will pass the full Senate, and am grateful to Senator Elgie Sims for his leadership on this bill.”
But Catholic Conference of Illinois called the vote “tragic” in a statement, and cited the state’s Department of Public Health data that shows the number of abortion procedures on minors has decreased since the Parental Notification of Abortion Act went into effect.
The Conference represents the six bishops in the state. Their statement called on “the full Senate to use reason, support parents and their daughters, and strongly reject this appalling legislation.”
“Current law makes it illegal for minors in Illinois to use an indoor tanning bed; buy cigarettes, alcohol or lottery tickets; or vote in an election. Are we to believe abortion is somehow less consequential than getting a tan?”