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National Editorial & Columnists

Common sense on minors, abortion

The Illinois Supreme Court recently upheld the constitutionality of a state law that requires doctors to notify a parent or guardian before they perform an abortion on a child who is under age 18.

“The state has an interest in ensuring that a minor is sufficiently mature and well-informed to make the difficult decision whether to have an abortion. ... We agree with the defendants that the Act is crafted narrowly to achieve its aim of promoting the minors’ best interests through parental consultation,” the justices wrote in the unanimous ruling.

That final decision took an astonishing 18 years to reach. Shortly after Gov. Jim Edgar signed the law in 1995, abortion-rights groups challenged its constitutionality. For years, the law was suspended while the courts debated the legal challenges and engaged in a tussle over who should write the rules for enforcement. The Illinois Supreme Court has finally resolved all of that.

The parental notification law was passed when Republicans controlled the Illinois House and Senate and the governor’s office. (Yes, it was that long ago.) Democrats have firm control of all three power centers now, and an effort to rewrite or repeal the law is likely.

Lawmakers, think twice. This is good public policy. It is also popular public policy.

The bill was the product of elaborate negotiations and had the backing of a number of supporters of abortion rights. It includes legal protections for minors who have been victims of parental abuse or neglect. They can seek a waiver in court of the requirement that they notify a parent, an acknowledgment that some teens would seek an illegal abortion if they didn’t have the waiver option.

The law requires only that one parent or guardian be notified. It does not require that a parent consent to the abortion.

The law puts Illinois firmly in the mainstream on this issue. Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Missouri and Kentucky require parental consent, not just notification, before an abortion may be performed on a minor. Iowa and Minnesota require a parent to be notified. In all, 37 states require some form of notification or consent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“This legislation, like any attempt to regulate abortion while respecting women’s legal rights to seek the procedure, attempts a delicate balancing act,” we wrote in 1995. “It provides parents some confidence that their child will not undergo a medically and morally serious procedure without their knowledge or before they have an opportunity to counsel them.”

The law made sense then. It does today. Lawmakers should let it stand.

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