The extinguishing of reproductive freedom in America will not lead to pregnant women or parents getting materially more support in “pro-life [sic]” states. But it will mean rape victims giving birth before they start Grade 7:
Ashley just had a baby. She’s sitting on the couch in a relative’s apartment in Clarksdale, Miss., wearing camo-print leggings and fiddling with the plastic hospital bracelets still on her wrists. It’s August and pushing 90 degrees, which means the brown patterned curtains are drawn, the air conditioner is on high, and the room feels like a hiding place. Peanut, the baby boy she delivered two days earlier, is asleep in a car seat at her feet, dressed in a little blue outfit. Ashley is surrounded by family, but nobody is smiling. One relative silently eats lunch in the kitchen, her two siblings stare glumly at their phones, and her mother, Regina, watches from across the room. Ashley was discharged from the hospital only hours ago, but there are no baby presents or toys in the room, no visible diapers or ointments or bottles. Almost nobody knows that Peanut exists, because almost nobody knew that Ashley was pregnant. She is 13 years old. Soon she’ll start seventh grade.
In the fall of 2022, Ashley was raped by a stranger in the yard outside her home, her mother says. For weeks, she didn’t tell anybody what happened, not even her mom. But Regina knew something was wrong. Ashley used to love going outside to make dances for her TikTok, but suddenly she refused to leave her bedroom. When she turned 13 that November, she wasn’t in the mood to celebrate. “She just said, ‘It hurts,’” Regina remembers. “She was crying in her room. I asked her what was wrong, and she said she didn’t want to tell me.” (To protect the privacy of a juvenile rape survivor, TIME is using pseudonyms to refer to Ashley and Regina; Peanut is the baby’s nickname.)
The signs were obvious only in retrospect. Ashley started feeling sick to her stomach; Regina thought it was related to her diet. At one point, Regina even asked Ashley if she was pregnant, and Ashley said nothing. Regina hadn’t yet explained to her daughter how a baby is made, because she didn’t think Ashley was old enough to understand. “They need to be kids,” Regina says. She doesn’t think Ashley even realized that what happened to her could lead to a pregnancy.
At their second visit, about a week later, Regina tentatively asked Balthrop if there was any way to terminate Ashley’s pregnancy. Seven months earlier, Balthrop could have directed Ashley to abortion clinics in Memphis, 90 minutes north, or in Jackson, Miss., two and a half hours south. But today, Ashley lives in the heart of abortion-ban America. In 2018, Republican lawmakers in Mississippi enacted a ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The law was blocked by a federal judge, who ruled that it violated the abortion protections guaranteed by Roe v. Wade. The Supreme Court felt differently. In their June 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion that had existed for nearly half a century. Within weeks, Mississippi and every state that borders it banned abortion in almost all circumstances.
Balthrop told Regina that the closest abortion provider for Ashley would be in Chicago. At first, Regina thought she and Ashley could drive there. But it’s a nine-hour trip, and Regina would have to take off work. She’d have to pay for gas, food, and a place to stay for a couple of nights, not to mention the cost of the abortion itself. “I don’t have the funds for all this,” she says.
So Ashley did what girls with no other options do: she did nothing.
It’s worth remembering that the near-universal conviction of opponents of legal abortion in America that is should be *harder* for teenagers to obtain abortions and the state is particularly justified in forcing them to carry pregnancies to term (at even greater risk to their health and life prospects.) Not only is this not a problem for them that they’ll try to fix, it’s the law achieving its goal.