CRAIN’S CHICAGO BUSINESS: Illinois ‘Right to Parent’ Effort Targets Transgender Care

This article was originally printed by Crain’s Chicago Business.

‘Right to parent’ referendum effort targets schools, medicine over transgender care

By Jon Asplund

Anti-abortion and parents’ rights activists are working to put the topic of abortion rights and transgender care on the Illinois ballot in 2024, albeit in a form with no legal teeth that critics call “meaningless.”

A group aligned with Illinois Right to Life and former state Rep. Jeanne Ives is promoting “the right to parent” with a petition drive aimed at both medical providers and school counselors.

The Parents Matter Coalition, a new project by Illinois Right to Life Action, has launched an effort to get an advisory referendum on the 2024 ballot calling for parental consent for minors to undergo medical procedures, or get gender-related counseling and therapy.

The Wheaton-based coalition hopes to get enough signatures to place its “Advisory Question of Public Policy on the Right to Parent” on the 2024 ballot, a press release said.

The question would read:

“Shall the written consent from a minor’s parent or guardian be required before any entity, person, clinic or school can provide a minor (under the age of 18 years) any non-emergency medical procedure, medication, pharmaceutical or any gender modification procedure, gender identification counseling or gender therapy?”

A spokeswoman for the coalition calls the question a “no-brainer.” Opponents call it red meat meant to gin up conservative base voters ahead of the election.

Even if it were put on the ballot and a majority voted “yes,” the referendum would have no legal weight and wouldn’t change the current rules. The group says it needs to meet a 500,000 signature minimum by April 2024 to get it on the ballot.

“It’s advisory, so it’s meaningless. The intention is political — to get people to the polls,” said state Rep. Terra Costa Howard, D-Glen Ellyn. “What better way for Jeanne Ives to get people stirred up than with false information.”

Howard said that gender-affirming medical therapies, like the use of hormone boosters and hormone replacement therapy already require parental consent, and from a practical perspective, usually require insurance money.

And, she said, Illinois repealed the Parental Notification Act in 2021, allowing minors to seek abortion care without parental consent, because “it’s important for women to be safe.”

In the case of abortion, Howard said, young women often cannot talk to a parent or guardian for many reasons, including that they’ve been sexually abused in their own home.

“It is more important that women are safe than it is that parents are informed,” she said.

Parents Matter Coalition sees state action as encroaching state in the parent-child relationship.

The parents’ coalition argues their referendum is just common sense, using the oft-cited example of ear-piercing.

“Minors often need parent permission to get their ears pierced, to go on field trips and to purchase medication, for example,” said coalition spokeswoman Mary Kate Zander. “It is common sense that they should also require parental consent when making major medical decisions, like the decision to take hormone blockers or to obtain an abortion. For the vast majority of parents, this is a no-brainer. That’s why we believe this initiative will receive widespread support.”

“Not requiring parental consent for abortion care follows the guidelines set for all other reproductive health care such as birth control,” Jennifer Welch, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said in an emailed statement. “Gender-affirming care goes beyond medication and includes a spectrum of services that support and affirm an individual’s gender identity. Because this care is ongoing and involves every aspect of a young person’s life, established best practices are to involve a patient’s family and/or caregivers whenever possible. Involving caregivers in this process allows clinicians to ensure patients are adequately supported and to provide education for everyone involved.”

“While it’s true that hormone blockers and replacement treatments presently require parental consent, there have been bills introduced in 19 states in the past two years — including here in Illinois — (that) aim to repeal these requirements,” Zander said. “Illinois tends to be an early adopter of this type of legislation because of the makeup of our state legislature. We have no doubt that this is coming down the pike for us.”

The issue is not simply hormone therapy, however, said Zander, who is also executive director of Illinois Right to Life.

The problem is with schools that provide support, gender counseling and gender therapy without informing parents, she said, pointing to 2020 non-regulatory guidance from the Illinois State Board of Education that states “schools are not required to seek parental consent to support transgender, nonbinary and gender nonconforming students.”

She also used as an example a federal lawsuit, Vesley v. Illinois School District 45, filed by a father who said his wife and the elementary school district conspired against him to violate his parental rights by facilitating his 12-year-old child’s gender transition at school. The lawsuit stated that the district staff referred to the child by her preferred pronouns and name and allowed her to wear make-up, nail polish and feminine clothing. The lawsuit was dismissed by a U.S. district court in April.

“The coalition’s existence is a response to this kind of behavior by educators in Illinois and the ballot initiative at hand is our primary goal,” Zander said in an emailed statement.

“This is the new way of framing an anti-abortion, anti-trans agenda,” said Edwin Yohnka, director of communications and public policy at the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. “What they really don’t want is anyone have access to this kind of care.”

“I think that what we’re seeing is that there are people who can’t stand, for whatever reason, can’t accept the kind of change we are seeing where people accept and respect gender identity,” he said. “So they want to use government to stave off societal recognition of reality.”

The idea of a parental consent referendum originally came from Wheaton father of seven children, Vince Heaton. Heaton said he began looking at the petition drive in response to the 2021 repeal of parental notification, before working with Ives and Zander.

Heaton also rejected the notion that the advisory referendum was just about getting out the vote.

“I wouldn’t be going to that much work if it was just about that.”

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