Advancing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights
Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health
Volume 44, Number 3, September 2012

Abortion-Seeking Minors’ Views on the Illinois Parental Notification Law: A Qualitative Study

By Erin K. Kavanagh, Lee A. Hasselbacher, Brittany Betham, Sigrid Tristan and Melissa L. Gilliam

Context: Thirty-seven states have laws in effect that mandate parental involvement in adolescent abortion decisions. Little is known about minors’ opinions of parental involvement laws.

Methods: In-depth interviews were conducted with 30 minors presenting for an abortion at one of three Chicago-area clinics in 2010. Interviewers described the Illinois parental notification law (which was passed in 1995 but is not in effect because of legal challenges) and a corresponding judicial bypass option to the minors and asked their opinions about them. Interviews were coded and analyzed using content analysis and grounded theory methods.

Results: Most minors perceived the law negatively, citing fears that it would lead to diminished reproductive autonomy for minors, forced continuation of pregnancies, adverse parental reactions (including emotional or physical abuse) and damaged parental relationships. A few held positive or ambivalent opinions, concluding that notifying a trusted adult could provide an adolescent with needed support, but that parental involvement should not be mandated. Most participants held negative opinions of judicial bypass, describing it as overwhelming and logistically complicated, and worrying that some minors might go to extreme lengths to avoid the process.

Conclusions: Many minors have deep concerns about the potential harm that could result from parental involvement laws. These opinions provide a valuable addition to the debate on such laws, which purportedly are intended to ensure minors’ best interests.




Erin Kavanagh is senior clinical researcher, and Lee Hasselbacher is policy coordinator, Section of Family Planning & Contraceptive Research, Division of Biological Sciences, University of Chicago. Melissa Gilliam is chief, Section of Family Planning & Contraceptive Research; director, Fellowship in Family Planning; professor of obstetrics and gynecology; and adjunct professor of pediatrics—all at the Division of Biological Sciences, University of Chicago. Sigrid Tristan is assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, New York University School of Medicine. Brittany Betham is a medical student, Pritzker School of Medicine, University of Chicago.