The Extremes Are Not Unusual
A 10-year-old in need of an abortion is shocking, but it's not isolated.
Sofia, 12, cradles her stuffed bunny as she awaits her due date.
Photo credit: Nichole Sobecki / VII
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Just when you think aggressively anti-abortion conservatives can’t get any more depraved, they surprise you. The story of a ten-year-old girl pregnant from rape and forced to travel from her home state of Ohio to Indiana for a legal abortion has been making the rounds this month — and conservative politicians, commentators, and news outlets have publicly doubted its veracity, and made a public example of the doctor who performed the procedure. A writer at the far-right site Pajamas Media asked whether the story might be “fake news.” Fox News host Jesse Waters did a segment on the story, suggesting it was likely made up. Ohio Republican Jim Jordan tweeted that the story was “another lie.” The Wall Street Journal editorial page wrote that the story was “too good to confirm.”
Even when it turned out that the story was 100% true, none of these misogynist charlatans apologized. Instead, they took credit for the police investigation into the alleged rapist — an investigation that began before this story was ever printed in a newspaper.
And that — the public humiliation of a child rape victim, the harassment and the character assassination of the doctor who helped her — should have been enough. If these people had any shame whatsoever, they would feel at least a tiny bit bad for the actual human being at the center of this story: A traumatized child.
But no. An appalling number of anti-abortion conservatives have fully signed themselves onto Team Child Rape. The Indiana Attorney General has said he is launching an investigation — into the doctor who helped this kid not risk her life giving birth to her rapist’s baby. The aim, clearly, is to intimidate any abortion provider from giving care even when it’s legal, and certainly to intimidate providers out of talking to the media and letting the public know the horrors that “pro-life” laws inflict.
National Right to Life also made no apologies for their position, which, on the question of, “Should you force a child pregnant from rape who is too young to fully understand what’s happening to her into bearing her rapist’s baby, surely at the expense of her health and quite possibly at the expense of her own life,” is extremely in the “yes, definitely do that” camp.
“She would have had the baby, and as many women who have had babies as a result of rape, we would hope that she would understand the reason and ultimately the benefit of having the child,” Jim Bopp, an Indiana lawyer who helped National Right to Life pen the model anti-abortion legislation they are hoping to pass nationwide, told Politico.
They’re not sugarcoating it: These people want to force pregnancy, childbearing, and parenthood on child rape victims.
I talk about this case in The Week in Women podcast this week, which comes out tomorrow morning (if you want to listen on Friday, upgrade to a paid subscription now).
But at some point, what can you say? If this is their vision of morality and a “pro-life” world, our views on what is moral and decent and even human is so wildly far apart that I truly wonder how we can coexist on the same planet, let alone in the same country. This is evil. It’s cruel. I just cannot imagine ever, ever thinking this is ok, let alone righteous.
You’re probably going to hear that abortion in the case of rape is rare, and that abortions for child rape victims are rarer still. And that’s true, sort of — most abortions are indeed elective, not the outcome of sexual violence but rather, simply, because a person is pregnant when they do not want to be.
Data-gathering on reasons for abortions is limited, and many women and girls who were impregnated by rape don’t report the assault. But even if we go with a low-ball number — that pregnancies resulting from rape make up about 1% of all abortions — we’re still talking about more than 6,250 women who have abortions because they were impregnated by rape every year in the US alone. Worldwide, we’re talking about more than 730,000 women every year.
That is not “rare.”
And many of those women aren’t women at all, but children. In Ohio alone, an average of one girl aged 15 and under has an abortion every week — and you can bet that many of these girls are rape survivors. One in nine girls in the US experiences rape or sexual assault at the hands of an adult before she turns 18. Worldwide, cases of children pregnant from rape and denied abortions sometimes make headlines, but for the most part, they are a silent and tragic part of life — or a part of ending a girl’s life.
Pregnancy is the #1 killer of girls aged 15-19 worldwide. Many of those girls die in childbirth; many die because they live in countries where they do not have access to safe and legal abortions.
As abortion restrictions tick on in the US, we’re going to hear more stories about these supposedly extreme cases. Note, though, that these are only the tip of the iceberg; these are only the cases that are hitting the ears of interested journalists, and where there is enough information to corroborate the story and go to print. The overwhelming majority of the shocking, extreme, and horrifying stories will never be told. And I suspect even fewer stories will be told after this debacle — what doctor wants to have her life turned upside down by vicious right-wing attacks, and face political investigations into her practice, simply for speaking to a journalist? What parent is going to open their child up to that kind of cruelty and harassment?
I often think of a girl I met a few years back when I was reporting on abortion restrictions in Honduras. For her privacy, I called her Sofia, and she was 12 and about to give birth. I found Sofia through a domestic violence organization, the same place I found several other sources for the story. Sofia wasn’t someone whose story had made the news. There were no shocking articles about her in Honduran media, no news broadcasts, no politicians citing her case to support abortion rights. There was just Sofia and her stuffed bunny, living in a small bedroom in a home with her struggling parents, not quite understanding what childbirth entailed but knowing she was going to have a baby soon, even if she didn’t really want to. I didn’t fly to Honduras to seek Sofia out. She was one of many, many people I interviewed for the piece I eventually wrote, most of them adult women, but often just barely. She was not, however, the only child rape victim I interviewed for that piece.
And that’s what I want to emphasize: That these are not vanishingly rare, extreme cases that capture national attention because they once-every-few-years events. They are happening today. I went to Honduras to report a story about how the strict anti-abortion laws fuel violence against women and it was really, really easy to find women and girls who were living examples of how anti-abortion laws fuel violence against women. Some of them were raped and impregnated as children. That was simply part of the fabric of life, not a national news event.
Girls who are raped and impregnated as children are also part of the fabric of life here in the United States. Many of them seek out abortions. That is the truth, even if it’s ugly, and even if it’s inconvenient for people who claim the mantle of “life.”
The question is not whether this happens, or even whether it’s rare. The question, only, is if you’re on the side of little girls who deserve to stay girls, or if you’re another adult who tells them: Your body is mine.
p.s. This is the free weekly version of this newsletter. If you’re enjoying it, and if you want to support feminist commentary and journalism, please do consider upgrading to a paid subscription. This whole thing is supported by readers like you, and I am so grateful for your support.