Illinois Hotline Offers Recourse to Teens Facing Parental Notification Laws

A hotline set up by the ACLU in Illinois is intended to help teens in need exercise their due process rights to a judicial bypass option in case they need an abortion but do not want to notify their parents. These and other efforts seek to protect the rights of pregnant young women who cannot inform their parents of their pregnancy and abortion, often because of concern for their physical safety or abandonment, or because their parents are inaccessible. In such cases, a young woman seeking an abortion can bring her case to a judge, who in turn can permit the medical procedure without the required notification or consent.

If you are not
quite 18 years old and living in Illinois, if you are pregnant, if you need to
terminate your pregnancy and if you know that telling your family is not a safe
or wise choice, then, as of this summer, you have only a single legal option.

You need to
navigate a courtroom obstacle course to get a judicial bypass for your

And Leah Bartelt
wants to be very clear about this: a judicial bypass is not a way to skip
around the state’s new parental notification law, but rather, it is the very
essence of the law. Bartelt says:

The media
reporting on the (Illinois parental) notification law are saying that the ACLU
is helping (minors) ‘exploit loopholes’ in the law,” said Bartelt, who is the
reproductive rights staff counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union in
Illinois. “This is incredibly frustrating because this is in the law. To say we’re exploiting loopholes is dishonest.

She added, “This
isn’t bypassing the law; this is a due process right that the young women

That is one
bright fact that’s emerged in a tough Midwest summer. In July, the U.S. Court
of Appeals dissolved the injunction on the 1995 Illinois Parental Notice of
Abortion Act—meaning that a young woman cannot receive an abortion without a
parent, legal guardian, grandparent, or other adult family member being
notified. There is a 90-day grace period before the law takes effect, which was
granted after the Illinois Medical Disciplinary Board said that it needs time
to make changes to its process, which will include penalizing doctors that
don’t comply with the notification law. The grace period expires in November

Illinois joins
thirty-four other states that have parental involvement laws for minors seeking
to terminate a pregnancy. This spring, a report from the Guttmacher Institute
found that these laws seem to “have little impact on minors’ abortion rates
and, by extension, birthrates and pregnancy rates,” except in Texas, where the
lower number of abortions for minors seems to correlate with the increasing
number of teen pregnancies. The Guttmacher report’s finding is in part because many
minors travel to states without parental involvement laws in order to obtain an

The report also
notes that it found “no studies that evaluated the increased costs of obtaining
an abortion due to delays, travel, or bypass proceedings; the impact of minors
being forced to consult their parents; or minors’ opinions about the parental
involvement laws.” It urges for more research to be done.

The judicial
bypass option in Illinois and elsewhere is intended to protect the rights of
pregnant young women who cannot inform their parents of their pregnancy and
abortion, often because of concern for their physical safety or abandonment, or
because their parents are inaccessible. In such cases, a young woman seeking an
abortion can bring her case to a judge, who in turn can permit the medical
procedure without the required notification or consent.

The U.S. Supreme
Court found in 1979 that so long as the judicial bypass option exists,
mandatory parental notification or consent laws are not an infringement on the
right to abortion.

Bartelt is among
those who have teamed together to form The Illinois Judicial Bypass
Coordination Project as a response to the state’s new restrictions. It is
designed to not only protect the right of the judicial bypass, but to make it
accessible to young women who might otherwise be daunted by dodging through the
legal process on their own … all while trying to protect their privacy from
unwelcome intrusions by their family and community.

The strategy?
The Illinois Judicial Bypass Coordination Project offers a free hotline that’s
available to minors between 9 am and 9 pm, six days a week, at 1-877-44-BYPASS. The hotline is staffed
by trained volunteers who provide information on the regulations, timelines,
who legally needs to be notified and who does not. The project also developed a
comprehensive guide to help young women understand their rights related to parental
notice laws, all-options counseling, and the bypass process.

“We want to get
this (guide) out to abortion clinics, physicians, health care providers, school
health centers, all girl-serving agencies,” Bartelt said.

Through the
hotline, callers can also tap into the project’s network of pro bono lawyers.  Bartelt says:

If she (the
caller) knows abortion is her right choice and she wants to go to court, the
volunteer will fill out her intake form (…) and we will find her a lawyer,”
Bartelt said. “We’ve required lawyers to represent the young women pro bono so
no one has to go to court without a lawyer.

Like the hotline
volunteers, the lawyers too are trained about the parental notification law and
the bypass process, including challenges that are peculiar to these situations,
such as the transportation problems common among minors trying to get to their
hearing while keeping the process private from their family and school.

The nation’s
newest judicial bypass hotline borrows from models pioneered elsewhere,
including the PATH Project facilitated by the ACLU in Florida. Created in
December 2005, the PATH Project’s toll-free legal hotline (877-FLA-PATH) facilitated about 600 bypass cases in 2008, according
to Bartelt. Like the new initiative in Illinois, the PATH Project guides
callers to a network of pro bono attorneys, offers lawyer training.

Our goal
is to empower teens to make decisions – based on their best
interests – about their own medical care,” states the PATH Project’s
mission on its website.

But what may be
the longest-running judicial bypass hotline comes from Jane’s Due Process, a
nine-year-old organization committed to ensuring legal representation for teens
in Texas.

Jane’s Due Process hosts a 24-hour
toll-free hotline (1-866-www-jane),
initiated after parental notification passed in Texas in 2000. (Texas has since
toughened up its restrictions by passing a parental consent law.) The hotline
is staffed by volunteers, including many who are law students at the University
of Texas, and it helps minors find lawyers for their bypass. It also provides
training to attorneys so that they are equipped to help young women navigate
the court system that regularly refuses to hear these cases, despite being
required to do so by law.

While Jane’s Due
Process doesn’t have any marketing budget, young women find out about it via
its web presence, referrals from clinics, and from an informational piece
that’s available from health clinics and parenting programs.

“Girls don’t
normally come looking for us until they need us,” said Tina, the hotline
coordinator for Jane’s Due Process. She asked that her last name not be used.

Who are these
girls who call the hotline? Last year, according to the organization’s annual
report, 469 minors from around the country called Jane’s Due Process for
judicial bypass assistance—up from 316 the previous year. Of these, 18 percent were
mothers already supporting at least one child. This is not much of a surprise:
Dallas is the U.S. city with the highest percentage (28 percent) of teen births that
are from repeat pregnancies, according to a recent report from Child Trends, a
nonpartisan Washington-based group that used statistics from the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention from 2006 (the most recent year the numbers are
available). As a whole, Texas has the highest repeat teen birth rate of any
state, for the sixth straight year, at 23%. Five of the fifteen worst ranked
cities are in Texas.

In such a
context, Jane’s Due Process—the only organization in Texas dedicated to work of
this kind—continues to take callers. Twenty-two percent of last year’s callers
reported physical or emotional abuse from their parent or guardian; many reported
having been  impregnated by their
father. Twenty-five percent were orphans, had parents who didn’t live in the
U.S. (often caught in an immigration tangle), or were otherwise inaccessible.
Fully 27 percent of callers had been kicked out of their homes, or were threatened
with being kicked out or disowned for being pregnant. Sixty percent of callers
were 17 years old; aonly one percent was younger than fifteen. Sixty-six
callers were Latino or of African or Caribbean descent; twenty-two percent were

In a blog on
Salon headlined, “I Help Teenagers Get Secret Abortions,” an anonymous attorney
that works with Jane’s Due Process describes the kind of calls she received as
a hotline volunteer:

The very first
call I took … was from a 17 year old who said bluntly, ‘My mom’s in jail and my
dad’s in Iraq” she was living with her older sister who was 22, but the clinics
were not allowed to accept the sister’s consent because she was not the legal
guardian. …
I even sent a
girl to Kansas once; she was a marathon runner and a track star.  She lost
her period every year during training season and so really did not know she was
pregnant until the middle of the second trimester. (Ed note: Texas criminalizes abortions after 21 weeks) Her parents
were hard-core religious, and she knew that they would turn her out on the
streets no matter what happened with the pregnancy.  She didn’t want to be

Many called
Jane’s Due Process asking about abortion funding and about child support issues
as well as for bypass support, and many called from outside of the state. Tina
directs non-Texas callers to their local Planned Parenthood clinics.
Non-residents can receive bypasses in Texas, though they will then also have to
have their abortion in Texas. Minors from Oklahoma and Louisiana often come in
for this process. Meanwhile, minors in far west Texas often go to New Mexico
for their procedure where there is no parental notification law.

Tina said that
the “majority of girls (who call the hotline) are on birth control, but got
pregnant anyway.” Among callers that said they were not using a condom, “72 percent
reported that their partner actively refused or chose not to wear a condom,”
according to the organization’s most recent annual report.

“Most minors who
call are in school and are getting an excellent education,” Tina said. “There’s
a misperception that it’s just low-performing minors that get pregnant.”

Bartelt, too,
reported that the young women served by the Illinois Judicial Bypass
Coordination Project are more varied than commonly believed.

“This (hotline) is
for young women who feel trapped, who feel they can’t notify their
parents–that they’d be kicked out of the house or forced to marry the father,”
Bartelt said. “Others have a great relationship with their family, but—because
their house just got foreclosed on, or a parent’s suffering depression—they
feel they can’t inform them right now,
because it would break (their parents).”

While Bartelt
said that the Illinois bypass project is intended to “make it as easy as
possible for (young women) to comply with the law,” and that its swift
development is “a testament to the community—lawyers and non-lawyers who are
aware of how hard this can be for young women, how traumatizing it is,” Bartelt
emphasizes moving through the process isn’t a simple thing, no matter how much
support exists.

“It’s hard. It’s
not easy telling multiple strangers about your sex life and your family,” she

But there are
thousands of young people across the country that feel that the difficulty of
revealing intimate details of their lives notwithstanding, it is their best
choice. And in at least a handful of states, they don’t have to go it alone.