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Ill. high court considers old abortion law

SPRINGFIELD – Lawyers argued before the Illinois Supreme Court for more than an hour Thursday over an abortion notification law that’s nearly two decades old but has never taken effect. The court’s job is merely to determine whether the legal battle will continue.

The law, adopted in 1995, requires doctors of girls 17 and younger to notify a parent 48 hours before an abortion. A girl may bypass her parents by going to a judge.

Opponents of the dormant decree want permission to duke it out in a trial, which an appellate court agreed to last year. The state appealed that decision to the high court, with the Illinois solicitor general saying there’s no need for a trial because of numerous other court rulings on the matter and because opponents haven’t shown they have a right to one.

Similar laws – and some even requiring parental consent for an abortion – exist in 44 other states. But the Illinois version never took effect because of ongoing judicial decisions and court wrangling.

The current battle began when a Granite City abortion clinic and a physician who runs the Center for Reproductive Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago filed a lawsuit in 2009. They argue the Illinois Constitution gives unique protections not found elsewhere – privacy rights, prohibiting gender discrimination – which justify a trial.

The law treats minors differently depending on how they react to their pregnancies, said Lorie Chaiten, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer for the plaintiffs.

“The state imposes harmful restrictions on those who seek abortions that it does not impose on those who choose to carry their pregnancies to term,” Chaiten told the justices Thursday.

The plaintiffs argue that the law endangers teenagers who face eviction or abuse if forced to tell a parent about an unplanned pregnancy. They say abortion is safe and that minors are capable of making sound medical decisions.

Solicitor General Michael Scodro – an employee of Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan, an abortion rights supporter – told the justices that numerous federal and state court rulings have decided that the law puts no burden on teen girls. Federal law doesn’t provide a direct right to an abortion, he said, it just prohibits states from unfairly restricting it.

“The question is, does the notice law present an undue burden?” Scodro said after the court session. “The point we made is that the U.S. Supreme Court has addressed and resolved that question time and time again involving notice and consent laws. This law’s no different.”

He said allowing the trial would make the court a “super Legislature” – writing laws the General Assembly hadn’t intended. But the ACLU’s Chaiten said the judiciary, and not the Legislature, is the proper place to take claims that distinct parts of the Illinois Constitution have been violated.

“If the state can come up with a justification for putting young women in harm’s way as this law does, then let them try to do so,” Chaiten said after the hearing. “But don’t just simply say, ‘That U.S. Supreme Court case from 1981 answers the question,’ because it doesn’t for us.”

The court does not indicate when it will issue opinions.

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