This week, Time magazine ran 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 she entered seventh grade.
The story highlights how difficult it is to obtain an abortion in many parts of the country, even for those who are supposed to be exempt from many of the state’s strictest 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 called in January, after the girl was hospitalized for vomiting, only to learn she was pregnant. However, while Mississippi’s strict abortion ban allows for exceptions in cases of rape reported to law enforcement, the only abortion clinic in the state closed its doors in July 2022.
Since Mississippi is surrounded by states that have also banned the procedure in most cases, the nearest abortion provider was in Chicago—more than 600 miles, or nearly a nine-hour drive, from the girl’s home in Clarksdale, Miss. The cost of such a trip, plus time off from work, was something her mother could not afford, and the girl was left to become a mother at the age of 13.
21 states have either banned or restricted abortion since the Supreme Court decided to repeal it Roe v. Wade In June 2022, the constitutional right to abortion was repealed. Many state laws have exceptions, including provisions for victims of rape and incest, or for expectant mothers whose lives are in danger.
But even in states where abortion providers still exist, there are many obstacles to taking advantage of these exceptions, which often require the woman to prove her eligibility.
“For some, it will all be so completely stressful that they feel hopeless,” Michelle Goodwin, professor of counsel at the University of California, Irvine and author Guarding the uterus He previously told Yahoo News.
Yahoo News spoke to Goodwin and other experts in May 2022 about the challenges women may face navigating exceptions to the state’s new abortion ban.
Most sexual assaults go unreported
Goodwin noted 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 of the victims say their silence is due to fear of reprisal and social stigma.
“In the process of going through all of these things, they may not be able to meet the state’s timeline in which they can terminate the pregnancy,” Goodwin said. “So even if those exceptions did exist, it’s not as if the existing exemptions, as they are, create any kind of dignified path to be able to get that kind of health care.”
More barriers for minors
This process is more challenging for minors, especially those who have been abused by their legal guardian. Goodwin further noted that many young girls may lack the financial resources to deal with the legal bureaucracy.
“Imagine a situation where you now have to get permission from your father, the person who raped you, in order to be able to have an abortion, or you have to go to court and find a judge and get a schedule in order to be able to do that,” she said.
How do we determine when a 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, equity shift leader at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told Yahoo News last year that language around such health-based exceptions is usually vague and difficult to enforce.
“There are no bright lines anywhere that say someone is crossing one threshold into another, and now all of a sudden their lives are in danger,” Villavicencio said. “As medical experts, as doctors, as people who work to save lives every day, we do everything we can to prevent you from getting to a point where your life is in danger, and that sometimes means terminating a pregnancy that could put your life in danger.”
Villavicencio said she was concerned that doctors in states with strict anti-abortion laws wouldn’t be able to prioritize their patients’ health — instead they would have to think about the law and wait until a patient’s life was in danger before performing a test. Necessary abortion, for fear of losing his license or potentially facing criminal penalties.
“People are going to get sick a lot more, and sometimes they’ll get so sick that there’s no intervention we can do to get them back,” she said. “That’s why we talk about these laws as life-threatening, because they are really, really.”