Teenagers do regrettable things. Left to their own devices, they may compound their errors in an attempt to remedy them. It's part of being a teenager. Many of our existing laws reflect the neurodevelopmental reality that teenagers make unwise decisions on the way to adulthood: an immature prefrontal cortex results in immature judgment. A minor can't get a tattoo in the state of Illinois, because the art that seems so appealing at age 14 is likely to be less so twenty years down the line. A minor needs parental consent for a body piercing, because the decision to modify one's body is best undertaken with a clear head and careful judgment.
How much more serious is the decision to seek an abortion?
Since 1995 Illinois has had a law on the books requiring that parents be notified when their minor child seeks an abortion. Legislation currently under consideration in the Illinois General Assembly, however, would repeal the existing law, allowing minors to obtain abortions without their parents’ knowledge.
This presents a marked contrast to the legal landscape in which your teen can't go on a school field trip without your written permission.
While virtually everything related to the issue of abortion is contentious, parental notification laws represent an area of common ground for many. Most states have laws on the books requiring parental notification or consent for minors seeking abortions. Most Americans support these laws. The Supreme Court, which has repeatedly struck down state legislation that attempts to lower abortion rates, has upheld parental notification laws as constitutional.
Why, then, would Illinois legislators take action opposed by so many of their constituents?
Some fraction of their motivation probably arises from concerns about teens in abusive homes; they may contend that the judicial bypass procedure is too onerous for them. But there may also be unexamined assumptions fueling the legislation-- the idea that a teenager is better off terminating a pregnancy, because a baby will keep her from fulfilling her goals. When pregnancy is viewed as a burden rather than a blessing, and motherhood as drudgery rather than vocation, lax abortion laws might seem to be sensible. Let's pray for those legislators: for wisdom and insight, for recognition that God can redeem difficult circumstances.
When fearful, worried teenagers make hasty decisions, sometimes the consequences are deadly. Occasionally these become heartbreaking news stories: in 2017, for instance, a teenaged boy in a Chicago suburb jumped from a parking garage to his death after he was confronted with wrongdoing. In the case of teens seeking abortion, however, the destruction usually remains hidden. Let's pray for a world in which pregnant teens can see clearly that there are no irredeemable mistakes, that there is a way forward for them through their difficult circumstances. Let’s pray for our state, so that we can preserve the rights of Illinois parents to mitigate the harms their teens may face as a result of poor decisions.
Today is the feast of Saints Perpetua and Felicity, mothers and martyrs. Please take a moment right now to ask them to intercede for all the teenaged girls in Illinois who are contemplating abortion, that God will fill them with hope and with the grace they need, and that they may see clearly the fragile gift of new life.