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Court upholds Ill. teen abortion notification law
CHICAGO -- A federal appeals court breathed new life Tuesday into a long-dormant Illinois law that requires parents of teen girls be notified before their daughter has an abortion.
Attorneys on both sides of the emotionally charged issue said the law would take effect within weeks unless its critics ask for a stay and the appeals judges agree to put their order on hold pending a possible rehearing.
Anti-abortion activists applauded the appeals court's decision as a long-overdue victory, while opponents of the law, which went unenforced during years of legal wrangling, said the measure was guaranteed to usher in dangerous problems.
"It's about time the law was approved," said Thomas Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society, which fought to have the measure enforced. "It's ridiculous that it took this long to get a decision."
Lorie A. Chaiten of the American Civil Liberties Union, which battled to keep the law from going into effect, said the law "creates unnecessary, dangerous hurdles to accessing essential health care for young women facing an unintended pregnancy in the state of Illinois."
The appeals court described the measure as "a permissible attempt to help a young woman make an informed choice about whether to have an abortion." It does not require that teens receive their parents' consent, only that the physician or an agent of the physician provide 48 hours notice to parents before the abortion is performed.
A provision of the law also allows a judge to be notified instead, a procedure the ACLU argued would not be workable in practice.
The appeals court's three-judge panel brushed aside that claim.
"We acknowledge that there might be practical problems with the procedure at issue here -- it may be intimidating for a minor to navigate the process of presenting her case to a judge, for instance," said the 35-page opinion written by Judge Richard D. Cudahy for the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"But we fail to see a better alternative," it said. "Abortion, no matter how it is confronted, may present intimidating choices to the minor woman who faces it."
Robyn Ziegler, a spokeswoman for the Illinois attorney general's office, which sought to have the enforcement ban dissolved, had no immediate comment.
The original parental notification law was passed in 1984 and an updated version followed in 1995.
U.S. District Judge David H. Coar issued the ban on enforcement in February 2007 -- an order that was dissolved by the appeals court's decision.
Brejcha described the law as a compromise that didn't make anti-abortion forces particularly happy because it didn't require parental consent.
"They think mom and dad should be notified before their daughter has invasive surgery," Brejcha said. He said it was possible that the decision the case could eventually be taken to the U.S. Supreme Court, but expressed doubt that the high court would agree to hear the case.
ACLU spokesman Ed Yohnka said it was unclear what the next step would be but that it was possible that the appeals court would be asked for a rehearing.
Meanwhile, Chaiten said it was time to "turn our attention to counseling teens and medical providers to minimize the harms of the notice and bypass requirements."