Abortion Bans Force Child Rape Victims into Motherhood
The “pro-life” movement looks an awful lot like a pro-rape movement.
Sofia, 12, pregnant from rape in Honduras, cradles her stuffed bunny as she awaits her due date. Photo credit: Nichole Sobecki / VII
In Mississippi just a few months ago, a 12-year-old girl who had been raped and impregnated was forced by her state’s abortion ban to give birth. She became a mother at 13.
In Mississippi last year, a different child who had been raped and impregnated was forced by her state’s abortion ban to leave if she wanted to terminate. Her parents scraped together the resources to get her to Illinois.
In Peru just a few months ago, an 11-year-old girl who had been raped and impregnated was refused an abortion because her country bans the procedure. After pressure from the UN, she was finally allowed to terminate her pregnancy, and did so just a few days ago.
In Ohio not long after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a 10-year-old girl who had been raped and impregnated was unable to get an abortion in her home state. She traveled to Indiana for the procedure, and the American “pro-life” movement, along with conservative media, fueled a national campaign of harassment and intimidation against the doctor who helped her. That doctor continues to be hounded by conservatives, including by Indiana’s “pro-life” attorney general, who has tried to use his office to punish her.
In Ohio, at least two other children were also raped, impregnated, and forced to leave within just a few months of the state putting its abortion ban in place.
In Texas, shortly after the state instituted its abortion ban, an 11-year-old girl who was pregnant from rape was forced to leave the state to have an abortion. It was her first time on an airplane.
In Poland earlier this year, a disabled 14-year-old girl who had been raped and impregnated was denied an abortion at her local hospital because of Poland’s broad abortion ban, despite abortion being technically legal in cases of rape. The “pro-life” country has a “conscience clause” that allows health workers to simply refuse to provide services to women and girls in need.
In Brazil last year, a 10-year-old girl who had been raped and impregnated was nearly forced by a “pro-life” judge to carry the pregnancy to term. Brazil broadly bans abortion, but has exceptions for rape, incest, and threat to the pregnant person’s life — and the pregnancy threatened this little girl’s life. Nevertheless, an anti-abortion judge ordered the girl removed from her family and placed in a shelter in an attempt to force her to give birth.
In Brazil in 2020, a different 10-year-old girl who had been raped and impregnated by her uncle was denied an abortion at her local hospital. After traveling close to 1,000 miles for the procedure, she was harassed by Brazilian “pro-life” activists who leaked her identity to the media; the same “pro-life” activists harassed the doctor who helped her. The girl faced such severe intimidation that she had to join the witness protection program.
In Brazil in 2009, a nine-year-old girl who spent a third of her young life being raped by her stepfather and was pregnant with twins saw local Catholic leaders attempt to prevent her from having an abortion that doctors said was medically necessary to preserve her life. The girl’s mother and the doctor who performed the abortion were excommunicated. The man who raped and impregnated the child was not. The girl was only spared excommunication because, the local archbishop said, the Church doesn’t excommunicate minors.
In Honduras a few years ago, I interviewed a 12-year-old girl pregnant from rape and just days away from giving birth, because Honduras has one of the strictest abortion bans in the world.
I could go on like this. There are endless stories of children being raped and impregnated and needing abortions — sometimes jumping through hoops to get them, sometimes being unable to attain them, often being forced into early motherhood. Most of the time, these stories go untold; the ones we hear about are grains of sand atop a dune of suffering. By definition, these pregnant children are rape victims. By definition, their health and their lives are imperiled: Pregnancy is the leading killer of adolescent girls worldwide.
Rapists do not believe women have sovereignty over our own sexual and reproductive organs, or that we have the right to determine what happens within our own skin. Abortion opponents believe the same.
These are also the cases the anti-abortion movement doesn’t want to talk about, because at the end of the day, the “pro-life” position is the same as the pro-rape position, which is to tell a woman or a girl: Your body is not yours, your sexual and reproductive organs are not yours, you must bear this pain. The “pro-life” position is to force raped children, like raped women, to give birth — even if it risks their lives, or ends them. In the “pro-life” telling, these cases are not a tragedies; they are blessings.
In their actions, it’s also clear that anti-abortion leaders assume child rape and children forced into motherhood to be part of the natural order of things. Forced pregnancy and forced sex exist on the same continuum of abuses, and stem from the same impulses, assumptions, and aims, namely: stripping women and girls of sexual and reproductive control of our own bodies.
Forcing oneself into a woman’s body against her will is rape. It is a profound violation. It remains a profound violation when the forcible act is done by the state.
We need to understand abortion bans, and the pregnancies they force to continue, as acts of sexual violence. We need to understand that forcing a a woman or girl into continued pregnancy and childbearing is just as wrong as forcing her into sex — and that these forcible acts occupy the same physical space within her, and the same psychic space within the person doing the forcing.
The term “rape culture” gets a overused, but there is a rapist mentality that I’m not sure we discuss enough. That mentality is both a sexist and sadistic one, seeing women as subordinate and not even entrusted with our own selves, and understanding women as vessels for men’s pleasures and desires and brutality. Rapists do not believe women have sovereignty over our own sexual and reproductive organs, or that we have the right to determine what happens within our own skin. Abortion opponents believe the same. We know that men who hold hostile sexist beliefs also have a proclivity toward rape. And we know that the anti-abortion movement is fueled by sexist beliefs.