Guest Commentary: Real-life Nightmares the New Normal Under Extreme Abortion Laws Like Kentucky’s

"Where are the exceptions for loss of a childhood? Loss of a future? Theft of innocence?"

Aug 31, 2023 at 11:19 am
click to enlarge Abortion is completely banned in Kentucky with very limited exceptions because of a Kentucky law that went into effect July 15, 2022. - Photo: Mary LeBus
Photo: Mary LeBus
Abortion is completely banned in Kentucky with very limited exceptions because of a Kentucky law that went into effect July 15, 2022.

Think of a 12- or 13-year-old little girl you know. Picture her in your mind. Think about what she likes to do, what her favorite color is, what subjects she likes at school and what she struggles with.

Now imagine her with a baby in her arms. Her baby, fathered by the man who raped her in her own front yard and who has never faced the consequences of his crime nor its aftermath.

That’s exactly what happened to a 13-year-old child living in rural Mississippi, where there is no access to abortion save for a very narrow exceptions that the girl and her family didn’t even know existed, putting her on a path to lifelong pain and poverty.

Before the fall of Roe, abortion would have at least saved her from the trauma of pregnancy and delivery, and potentially rescued her future from total derailment. Maybe she could have worked through the trauma of experiencing sexual assault in a place that should have been safe and healed enough to move on and thrive.

But this child lives hundreds of miles from the nearest operating abortion clinic. To legally obtain an abortion, her mother would have to take off work; drive nine hours to Chicago; pay for gas, food, a hotel for several nights, and of course, the abortion itself. She simply didn’t have the resources.

And because she simply didn’t have the resources, her little girl had to endure the physical pain of birth, the contractions and the pushing, the tearing of flesh and pain, and a lifetime of forced parenthood.

Where are the exceptions for loss of a childhood? Loss of a future? Theft of innocence? Extremist anti-choice politicians are lying to themselves, and to you, if they think this exact situation can’t happen here in Kentucky. It can — and likely will if it hasn’t already — and their extreme views ignore both the medical and economic realities of unwanted pregnancies.

Like Kentucky, Mississippi has some of the worst maternal health outcomes in the country and in the world, especially for Black and brown people. Both states also have some of the highest rates of poverty in the country. Kentucky and Mississippi are both maternal health care deserts, meaning large swaths of the state have no access to OB/GYN care. That problem will only get worse, as OB/GYNs aren’t interested in practicing in states with draconian laws that deny them the ability to practice the full spectrum of care. Nor do they think it’s safe to get pregnant themselves in those states.

Unlike Mississippi, Kentucky currently does not have an abortion exceptions law for victims of rape and incest, though those exceptions are nearly impossible to implement. In the case of the 12-year-old Mississippi girl, law enforcement did not move quickly enough to confirm that the child’s pregnancy resulted from rape. Even if a victim files a police report, as this family did, there appears to be no clear process for granting an exception. They were also told that to move the investigation forward, the police needed DNA from the baby after its birth.

None of this is unique to this case. Across the country, rape kits go untested, police officers question victims’ stories and overwhelmed detectives shuffle lives around in folders. In 2022, law enforcement or crime labs held almost 25,000 untested rape kits – and this only represents data from 30 states and Washington D.C. The total backlog number is unknown. Only 19% of rapes are reported to law enforcement, and for every 1,000 rapes reported in the U.S., 995 perpetrators face no consequences.

So now, the little girl in Mississippi has a baby she calls Peanut. That’s what I call my son, too.

I was also a teen parent. I didn’t choose abortion when I discovered I was pregnant but knowing that I could made all the difference. I had the privilege of being a white person in a mid-sized city, so while it was hard to navigate the bureaucracy of public assistance, at least it was available. I raised my son in poverty — without Medicaid and SNAP, we likely would have ended up homeless or worse. At 18, I had no concept of what it would mean to raise a Black son in Kentucky. I knew racism existed, but I could not conceive of the systems and roadblocks designed to make it harder, sometimes impossible, to thrive if you were born with dark skin.

My son was 6 when a stranger broke into our apartment and raped me, using my son’s clothing to tie my hands and threatening to kill my child with the knife he held to my throat if I screamed. My heart breaks for the little girl in Mississippi, violated and left with a permanent reminder of how she was denied choice over and over, and no one was held accountable.

My privilege saved me again after I was raped. As a white woman with a job that afforded me access to news media, the police believed me. A hospital located just 15 minutes from my home supplied the medication I would need to make sure I didn’t suffer an unwanted pregnancy. The child raped in Mississippi didn’t have the language to describe what had happened to her, didn’t have access to the preventive measures she needed, and didn’t know how to ask for help.

Losing the protections of Roe has caused nightmare scenarios to become all too real for the people who live in anti-choice states. This story of a 13-year-old girl giving birth in rural Mississippi isn’t an anomaly. It is the new normal for the parts of this country that refuse to accept that comprehensive reproductive care must include access to abortion for all.

This commentary was originally published by the Kentucky Lantern and republished here with permission.