this week Time published a story about a 13-year-old girl In Mississippi, who, thanks to the state’s new abortion ban, had to give birth shortly before entering the seventh grade.
The story underscores how much more challenging it has become to get an abortion in many parts of the country, even for those who are supposed to be exempt from many of the strictest state laws.
According to Time, the girl’s mother says she was raped by an unknown man in their front yard last fall, and police were contacted in January after the girl was hospitalized for vomiting only to find out she was pregnant. Although Mississippi’s strict abortion ban allows exceptions for cases of rape reported to law enforcement, 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 and free time from work was something her mother could not afford, so the girl became a mother herself at the age of 13.
21 states have either banned or restricted abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022 on removing the constitutional right to abortion. Many state laws have exceptions, including provisions for rape and incest victims or expectant mothers whose lives are in danger.
But even in states where abortion providers still exist, there are many barriers to taking advantage of such exemptions, which often require a woman to prove eligibility.
“For some, going through all of this is absolutely exhausting to the point where it can feel hopeless,” Michele Goodwin, Chancellor’s Professor at the University of California, Irvine and author Uterine surveillance, previously told Yahoo News.
Yahoo News spoke Goodwin and other experts in May 2022 about the challenges women may face when transitioning to new exemptions to state abortion bans.
Most sexual harassment goes unreported
Goodwin pointed out at the time that more than 2 out of 3 sexual assaults go unreported to the police, According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. Many victims say their silence is due to fear of retribution and social stigma.
“In the process of going through all these things, they may not be able to meet the state’s timeline where they can terminate the pregnancy,” Goodwin said. “So even if these exemptions were there, it’s not like the current exemptions as they are create any kind of valuable path to getting that kind of health care.”
Even more obstacles for minors
The process is even more challenging for minors, especially those who have been abused by their legal guardian. Goodwin further noted that many adolescent girls may lack the financial resources to navigate the legal red tape.
“Imagine a situation where you now have to get permission from your father, your rapist, to get an abortion, or you have to go to court and find a judge and get on a schedule to be able to do that,” she said.
How to determine when a mother’s life is in danger?
In addition to rape and incest, many state abortion bans contain exceptions in cases where the mother’s life is in danger. But Dr. Jennifer Villavicencio, director of equity reform at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told Yahoo News last year that the language of such health-related exemptions is generally vague and difficult to enforce.
– There are no clear lines anywhere that tell someone crosses from one threshold to another, and now suddenly their life is in danger, Villavicencio said. “As medical professionals, as doctors, as people who work to save lives every single day, 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. in danger.”
Villavicencio said he worries that doctors in states with strict anti-abortion laws fail to prioritize their patients’ health — instead, they have to think about the law and wait until a patient’s life is in danger before performing an essential abortion for fear of losing their license or possibly being to criminal sanctions.
“People get much, much sicker, and sometimes they get so sick that we can’t do anything to get them back,” he said. “That’s why we talk about these laws as life-threatening, because they really, really are.”