Ill. abortion notification law back in trial court

By Karen Hawkins

CHICAGO (AP) — The Illinois Appellate Court on Friday sent a never-enforced law requiring a girl’s guardians to be notified before she has an abortion back to the circuit court for trial to determine its fate.

The ruling reverses a decision by the Cook County Circuit Court, which had lifted a restraining order on the law in March 2010 but allowed time for appeals before it could be enforced.

Illinois’ law was passed in 1995, but never enforced because of various court actions. It requires doctors to notify the guardians of a girl 17 years old or younger 48 hours before the girl has an abortion. It requires no notice in a medical emergency or in cases of sexual abuse, and a provision allows girls to bypass parental notification by going to a judge.

The plaintiffs, a southern Illinois clinic and a University of Illinois doctor, have claimed the law violates the privacy, equal protection and gender equality clauses of the Illinois constitution.

Colleen Connell, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which is representing the plaintiffs, said she reacted to the appellate court ruling with “complete delight and relief.”

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The ACLU “will go back to the circuit court of Cook County and have the opportunity to present a full evidentiary record, including testimony from doctors and nurses and providers about why the harms this law would inflict on teens violates the Illinois constitution.”

“Years of research and experience have shown that most teens tell their parents about their pregnancy and their decision about having an abortion, and when a teen can’t tell a parent, it is often for very good reasons,” including fear of violence or eviction, Connell said.

The Illinois Attorney General’s office, which is representing the state agencies named as defendants, has said the reasons for the law are positive and wants to see it enforced. The attorney general could ask the state Supreme Court to hear the case now that the appeals court has ruled. Spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said the office is “reviewing the decision in order to determine the appropriate next steps.”

Otherwise it will go before Cook County Judge Daniel Riley for trial.

Peter Breen, executive director of the Chicago-based Thomas More Society Pro-Life Law Center, called the appellate court’s decision “flawed.”

“Only a prompt review by the Illinois Supreme Court can correct the injustice of not having this law in effect,” Breen said. “This sort of law has been upheld in 36 other states and the U.S. Supreme Court, we believe this law should immediately go into effect.”

The Parental Notice of Abortion Act was not enforced when it was passed because the Illinois Supreme Court refused to issue rules spelling out how judges should handle appeals of the notification requirement. The court issued those rules in 2006.

But a federal judge again refused to allow enforcement, saying the law still failed to give teenagers workable judicial options to notifying their parents. A federal appeals court later lifted the injunction on enforcement and the state’s Medical Disciplinary Board, a defendant in the suit, voted to allow doctors to begin carrying out the law. Hours after the board’s vote in November 2009, Riley issued his restraining order.