This week Time published a story about a 13-year-old girl in Mississippi who, thanks to the state’s new abortion ban, was forced to give birth shortly before entering seventh grade.
The story shows how it has become increasingly difficult to get an abortion in many parts of the country, even for those deemed exempt from many of the strictest state laws.
According to Time, the girl’s mother says she was raped in their front yard by a stranger last fall and police were reportedly contacted in January, after the girl was hospitalized for vomiting, to learn she was pregnant . But while Mississippi’s strict abortion ban allows exceptions in rape cases reported to police, the state’s only abortion clinic closed its doors in July 2022.
Because Mississippi is surrounded by states that have also banned the procedure in most cases, the closest abortion provider was in Chicago — more than 600 miles, or about a nine-hour drive, from the girl’s home in Clarksdale, Miss. travel, plus the time off, was something her mother couldn’t afford, leading the girl to become a mother herself at the age of 13.
Twenty-one states have banned or restricted abortion since the Supreme Court decided in June 2022 to overturn Roe v. Wade, abolishing the constitutional right to abortion. Many of those state laws have exceptions, including provisions for victims of rape and incest, or for mothers-to-be whose lives are in danger.
But even in states where abortion providers still exist, there are many hurdles to taking advantage of such exemptions, often requiring a woman to prove eligibility.
“For some, going through all that will be so exhausting that it can feel hopeless,” said Michele Goodwin, a chancellor professor at the University of California, Irvine and author of Guarding the womb, previously told Yahoo News.
Yahoo News spoke to Goodwin and other experts in May 2022 about the challenges women may face in navigating the exceptions to new state abortion bans.
Most assaults go unreported
Goodwin noted at the time that more than 2 out of 3 assaults go unreported to the police, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. Many victims say their silence is due to fear of retaliation and social stigma.
“As they go through all of these things, they may not be able to meet the state’s timeline in which they can terminate a pregnancy,” Goodwin said. “So even if these exceptions exist, it’s not like the current exemptions, as they are, create a dignified pathway to be able to get this kind of health care.”
Even more barriers for minors
The process is even more challenging for minors, especially those assaulted by their legal guardian. Goodwin further noted that many young girls may not have the financial resources to navigate legal bureaucracy.
“Imagine a situation where you now have to get the consent of your father, the person who raped you, in order to have the abortion, or you have to go to a court and find a judge and get on track to get this done. can do,” she said.
How to determine when the mother’s life is in danger?
In addition to rape and incest, many state abortion bans include exceptions in cases where the mother’s life is in danger. But dr. Jennifer Villavicencio, the equity transformation leader at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told Yahoo News last year that the language around such health-based exceptions is usually vague and difficult to enforce.
“Nowhere are there clear lines that say that someone steps from one threshold to another and that his life is now suddenly in danger,” said Villavicencio. “As medical experts, as doctors, as people who work every day to save lives, we do everything we can to prevent you from getting to the point where your life is in danger, and sometimes that means terminating a pregnancy that could endanger your life. at risk.”
Villavicencio said she fears doctors in states with strict anti-abortion laws won’t be able to prioritize their patients’ health — instead, they’ll have to think about the law and wait until a patient’s life is in danger before they a necessary abortion, for fear of losing their license or possible criminal prosecution.
“People will get much, much sicker, and sometimes they’ll get so sick that there’s no intervention we can do to bring them back,” she said. “That’s why we talk about these laws as life-threatening, because they really, really are.”