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Guest post by Lara Brooks

Lara S. Brooks is a Chicago-based youth worker fighting for transformative justice, queer and trans youth spaces, a never-ending supply of harm reduction options, and holistic health access for youth experiencing homelessness. Brooks works with the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health as a youth rights advocate.

During the first week of April 2014, youth leaders rallied at the Illinois state capitol to advocate for their reproductive rights and generate awareness about the dangers of the Parental Notification of Abortion Law (PNA). The Illinois PNA law requires that any person under 18 years of age seeking access to abortion services must have an adult family member (someone who is a parent, legal guardian, grandparent, or step-parent who lives with the young person) notified at least 48 hours before a medical provider can perform the abortion. There are similar laws in 38 states around the US.

As a long-time youth worker, sexual assault counselor, and former director of a youth center, I know that young people, navigating complex realities and complicated systems, are making informed and thoughtful decisions about their bodies—something that the very premise of PNA erases altogether. As an advocate and youth ally, I resist that erasure. At the recent youth rally in Springfield, I witnessed how powerful the voices and stories of youth can be when lifted up as part of policy conversations around the reproductive rights of youth.

The dangers of PNA, in combination with existing barriers to abortion access, disproportionately impacts youth who are in danger of or currently experiencing homelessness, housing instability, violence, and neglect. Based on my experiences working with young people, I know the trauma, danger, and crisis induced by PNA directly exacerbates violence, neglect, and homelessness. For already unstably housed young people, parental notification of abortion laws are just as dangerous as laws in other states that require written consent.

Most significantly, PNA does nothing to address the systemic or structural roots of this critical question: What are the lived realities of many young people in Illinois that make it unsafe to inform PNA’s list of approved adults and guardians in the first place?

I believe responding to the harms of PNA demands an intersectional, holistic response that includes all of us—young people, families, communities, youth workers, adult allies, healthcare providers, health educators, parents, and organizers. Despite barriers to comprehensive sexual health information and accessible healthcare, young people create powerful relationships within their communities, grow life-saving chosen families, and build critical, supportive and trusting relationships with extended family members, educators, youth workers, counselors, and other caring adults. Young people are actively striving to reduce their isolation in ways that are inspiring. As a youth worker, I witness this type of resilience every day.

The Reproductive Justice Movement that I want to be a part of builds its base by connecting and centering the real, lived experiences of young people. It connects to and learns from Environmental, Disability, Healing, and Health Justice Movements. It intersects with Racial, Queer and Trans* (transgender, gender variant, gender non-conforming, and gender questioning), Transformative Justice, and Economic Justice Movements. No one is disposable and solutions support both immediate and long-term goals and needs. For example, how are we holistically connecting struggles for reproductive health access with Trans* health access? How does Reproductive Justice intersect with state violence, policing, and discrimination? Which clients and patients are the most disposable in our current healthcare systems? How does a sex- and body-positive, gender-affirming, and trauma-informed health care system benefit all of us?

Structural and intersectional responses to reduce the harms of PNA, in this moment, include all of us.  Reproductive Justice pushes me to critically question and complicate definitions of self-determination, choice, and consent. And, at the same time, Reproductive Justice implores us to transform the conditions which may lead to increased violence for a young person seeking reproductive health options and abortion access.

I know we can do better and show up for young people by:

  1. Complicating narratives about consent and self-determination by creating spaces that allow young people to share their real lives in their own words.
  2. Listening to, trusting, and believing young people.
  3. Acknowledging that young people may be taking care of and supporting (emotionally, financially) the same family members that they are forced to inform when seeking abortion access.
  4. Increasing access to safe, gender-affirming, sex-positive, trauma-informed, and body-positive healthcare and health education.
  5. Creating alternative health-focused projects, organizations, and clinics with values in relationship building and harm reduction. Many of us feel a sense of disposability as staff, patients, and/or clients within health-focused organizations, medical institutions, and clinics.  Let us continue to build models that meet our needs and fight for our whole lives.
  6. Learning about legacies and histories of sexual and reproductive health resiliency.
  7. Educating our communities about ACLU’s Judicial Bypass Coordination Project, a strategy for reducing the harms of PNA right now.
  8. Centering the health priorities of Queer and Trans* young people of color, youth with disabilities, and undocumented youth in our reproductive justice and health access efforts.
  9. Taking part in efforts to end youth incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline.
  10. Recognizing that laws like the PNA are an extension of the carceral state, one that values punishment-based systems and incarceration to “solve” community “problems” instead of restorative justice and community accountability practices. PNA may serve as a tool to discriminately punish young people most impacted by economic and housing injustices.
  11. Incorporating Healing and Disability Justice—and the ways our bodies have experienced intersecting forms of violence (institutional, state, individual, generational, and family violence) into our conversations, workshops, and writings about sexual health, abortion, intimacy, disabilities, youth incarceration, and more.
  12. Increasing opportunities for young people to access basic needs, including safer sex supplies, in accessible, non-judgmental spaces.
  13. Providing employment, educational, and authentic leadership development opportunities to young people—particularly young people of color, youth impacted by state systems like juvenile detention, foster care, and group homes, youth with disabilities, undocumented youth, and LGBTQ young people.

The Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, ACLU of Illinois, and Chicago Abortion Fund are raising awareness with the support of Advocates for Youth in a campaign called #StopPNA. Follow the #StopPNA campaign on Twitter & Instagram where you can join in with your voice and stories.

Categories: Abortion
  • Pingback: It’s All Connected: Youth Homelessness, Health Access, and the Parental Notification of Abortion Law in Illinois | STOP PNA

  • Abortion is Murder

    HAHAHAHAHAHA… Why is it dangerous for a parent or guardian to be notified when their under age daughter wants to get an abortion?

    • Kat Rogers

      In a perfect world, it isn’t. In a perfect world, where every parent understands that their hormone-wracked teenagers are going to experiment sexually and will, sometimes, have sex, and thus may get pregnant; in a world where every parent understands the health, economic, and mental risks associated with a teen carrying a child to term and giving birth and then either giving it up for adoption (which has the highest risk for trauma of the three options), raising the child (which has the highest risk for economic failure of the three options), or having an abortion, then it makes perfect sense.
      Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world. Sadly, we live in a world where teens are kicked out of their homes for becoming pregnant. We live in a world where rape and incest occurs. We live in a world where child abuse happens. We live in a world where religious zealots are parents. We live in a world that still blames the teen girls for the pregnancy, but allows the boys to get off without so much as a child support payment if he merely signs a waiver within 48 hours of being informed they were born. We live in an imperfect, damaged world where people don’t understand that abortion isn’t murder because murder is a legal classification that does not apply to the removal of a fetus from a womb, where people try to force their personal BELIEFS into law, without using medical or scientific proof that their beliefs are right, but rather turn to religious or spiritual “Because I/God/Allah say it’s murder!” rhetoric and don’t realize that in this nation, we have the freedom to believe and practice our beliefs as we see fit, but do not have the freedom to impose our beliefs upon anyone else via the law, and that includes our children.

      • jake

        “abortion isn’t murder because murder is a legal classification that does not apply to the removal of a fetus from a womb”-

        Yes, abortion is not legally murder. Obviously this is true of procedures protected by the Roe decision, and it’s just as true for currently illegal abortions (such as elective third trimester or “partial-birth” procedures) as well as those before Roe v. Wade.

        State anti-abortion statutes rendered unenforceable in 1973 named the proscribed act as “intentional procurement of miscarriage”, “feticide” or simply “(criminal) abortion”; the far more severely punished felony of murder requires malicious taking of a *person*’s life and personhood for the purposes of US criminal law cannot exist prior to birth.

        More specifically upon the neonate taking their first breath outside of the mother’s womb; ironically for extreme Judeo-Christian conservatives who argue that a society with “Biblical Worldview of government” would legislate abortion as murder, this standard derives from Hebrew Scripture via English Common Law…medieval, very Christian, church/state-unseparated England that is.

        BUT, the First Amendment which rejects theocracy also enshrines freedom of speech and religious liberty. The word “murder”, like “theft” and “rape” for example, have other definitions beyond that of the law as noted by any fairly comprehensive dictionary. The competent authorities in each government determine what constitutes the *crime* of murder, theft and rape for that jurisdiction; how such things will be formally recorded and how the criminal justice system handle them.

        Yet “murder” can also be a secular moral term classifying what is considered unjust killing or a religious term classifying acts of killing believed to be forbidden by God or gods. Many feminists define “rape”, denoting the moral outrage of an assault on the most intimate aspect of bodily integrity, in a much broader way than the male-dominated legal definition. Anarcho-capitalists who reject the ethical legitimacy of a social contract compelling individuals to pay taxes often label taxation “theft”. At the other end of our economic ideological scale leftists denounce Wall Street “thieves” and “robbers” who they consider to have profited unjustly from speculative fiscal enterprises at the wider community’s expense, though like taxes such speculation is a routine exchange in the eyes of the law.

        All of these usages are protected by the Bill of Rights, well established within large interpretive communities and form a reality (or perspective on reality) in parallel- not counter to- the official use. Citizens are, in general, rational enough to know the difference between senses of a word and which paradigm they are valid for. My secular social-justice contacts who label capital punishment as “murder” don’t call the police when they hear of an execution demanding they charge the person administering lethal injection; nor do my Pentecostal and Baptist contacts who say “abortion is murder” take such action with respect to abortion providers.

        Quite simply, the person with username AbortionIsMurder likely believes that abortion constitutes the *sin* of murder (and that God will punish those “unrepentantly” involved after death or in supernatural ways in this life) or the *moral outrage* of murder, a classification for what he believes to be the most unjust and unwarranted termination of a (potential) life. As an intersectional feminist and progressive Christian I reject both of those views, but he is welcome to hold and express them as protected speech and religious practice- that’s just as much the enduring law of the land as the fact that a fetus cannot, in America, be the victim of murder as a *crime prosecuted by the state*.

        In conclusion, the fact that a particular English word is used in our laws with a definition for that purpose does not preclude its use as a non-legal word with different definitions. In civil society the State has a monopoly on the use of legitimate physical force to impose their views, within due process, but they hold NO monopoly on the construction of linguistic meaning.

        • Kat Rogers

          I in know way said calling abortion murder should be illegal. What I did say is that, since we are talking about the law, let’s use legal terms properly. It does tend to bug me when people misuse legal terms while talking about the law. Abortion isn’t murder, even according to the Bible, so I never understand where these people get “Abortion is murder” from. Usually, a direct statement such as that leads these people to attempt to prove it should be classified as murder legally and that always leads to them tripping over their own words. I have found that the opening statement I used is a very effective debate tool.

          • jake

            I didn’t ever think you had suggested outlawing speech. It was just a friendly reciprocal point about how if progressives, historically the defenders of individuals’ right to define contested concepts differently than the state-approved or hegemonic narrative does, start telling people in informal discussion that words used outside their legal definition are inherently “wrong” it will give rise to justified charges of hypocrisy. If it’s a useful gambit in your experience to draw out the *antis’* hypocrisy, then I can’t object strenuously.

            Agreed that it can become frustrating when some people in a discussion are using standard legal terms and others aren’t- like when Neo-Thomistic, Robby George Catholics are telling legally married same-sex couples they are “not married” because gay marriage is an “oxymoron” like a “square circle”. Which may be true for a particular sacramental or natural-law essentialist value of the word “marriage”, but is laughable when the couple is speaking of their civil contract and/or socially-constructed human relationship by that name.

            Personally, I get much more disturbed by anti-choicers who say abortion “should be murder”…as you touch upon above. “Abortion *is* murder” usually connotes “according to my view of Divine commands/ moral absolutes” and is said by people who, yes, want abortion recriminalized but with penalties for doctors far lower than a serial killer (even if they profess to believe the two are morally equivalent) and few or no penalties for women aka “second victims”.

            There is a foul Stygian river of misogyny running through this latter position: “Ladies! You were slutty to get pregnant and wicked to kill your precious, innocent little gift from God, but we won’t be too hard on you… because you couldn’t POSSIBLY have known what you were doing! You were misled by the evil predatory Abortion Industry, the seven men who voted pro-abortion in Roe, self-hating straight white Christian men like Michael Moore and Howard Dean who won’t take the lead, humanistic public schools and raunchy modern pop culture saying God is all-inclusive or dead and you get to clarify your own morally relative values. If only they hadn’t confused your pretty little help-meet head with librul sexualized culture full of freedoms and complex options God didn’t build the delicate, obedient feminine brain for, you’d not have done such a tragic thing. You can pay a modest fine, or alternatively help us convict the exploiter who stole away your motherhood and we’ll expunge your record. Here’s a contact for the local Women Deserve Better Than Abortion group- prayerfully consider doing the right thing for women and preborn babies.”

            On the other hand, the mercifully far less often heard “abortion *should be* murder” implies they are not content with leaving judgment to God and want secular law to punish women and doctors with decades of imprisonment, if not the… um, anti-pro-life penalty. I can say with confidence that faced with the inhumane choice, >99% of women would rather be reproductively concern-trolled by a Father Knows Best regime than banged up for life without parole or strapped to an electric chair by a “Fathers Own Your Sex” one.

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