February 3, 2023

If you become pregnant after being raped in Mississippi, you should be legally able to have an abortion. Although the state has banned almost all abortions, it allows them for cases of rape. But when a teenage girl there recently became pregnant through rape, her parents still had to take her to Illinois for an abortion. The last clinic in Mississippi had already closed.

“It was the ugliest feeling to explain to the doctor who gave birth to your child that they were raped and then he told you there was nothing he could do to help you. He gave me the number of the Louisiana Clinic,” the unnamed teenager’s mother told a local news outlet in Mississippi in late November. This clinic, too, had closed thanks to the state’s ban on abortion. There just weren’t any abortion clinics around.

Long held up by Republican politicians as a compromise of common sense and grudgingly tolerated by anti-abortion advocates, abortion bans, with exceptions for rape and incest, have now become something of an endangered species. Abortion bans in states like Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas — virtually the entire South — have no exceptions for incest or rape.

But even when laws allow abortions in cases of rape and incest, experts told VICE News that, in reality, they rarely work. Now that Roe v. Wade has fallen and abortion bans have been put in place, it is simply not financially feasible for clinics to remain open in banned states because there simply aren’t enough patients. And when a rape victim is allowed an abortion, they may be asked to overcome a series of logistically arduous, emotionally draining obstacles.

When states began to relax their bans on abortion in the 1960s, many agreed to allow people to have abortions in cases of rape, incest, and medical emergencies. After the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade decided that this trifecta of exceptions were unnecessary, anti-abortion activists spent decades picking on Roe — but still tended to leave rape and incest exceptions alone. Many believed that a fetus created through rape was still a baby worth protecting from abortion, but the movement usually recognized that such a position was not exactly politically tenable. Towards the end of the Roe era, as the movement grew in power and Conservative hold on the Supreme Court became firmer, Anti-abortion activists urged for what they really wanted: the end of exceptions to rape and incest.

Despite this, the majority of Americans believed only in 2018 that abortion should also be permitted in the third trimester of pregnancy if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. After the Supreme Court demolished Roe, People were horrified by the account a 10-year-old Ohioan who had to leave her state for an abortion after becoming pregnant through rape. She wasn’t the only one: Two other raped children had to flee Ohio for abortions, according to legal records, in a lawsuit over Ohio’s abortion ban. You have to wait more than three weeks for an abortion, an employee of an abortion clinic said in an affidavit.

“What interest does the state have in a law like this to really force minors who are raped to term?” said Jessie Hill, an attorney representing Ohio abortion providers in the lawsuit. That ban is now suspended thanks to a court order from a judge. Legally, the exceptions for rape and incest had little to nothing to do with this order. But Hill said: “I think just the fact of how this law plays out in reality really moved the judge. I mean it was for a lot of people.”

Hill said that before Roe passed out, she received regular calls from abortion clinics asking how to deal with underage patients who became pregnant as a result of rape. “I find the whole discourse so frustrating because you knew this could happen,” Hill said. “Everyone knew that was going to happen.”

Georgia is one of the few states that has banned almost all abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy but allows them in cases of rape or incest. The state requires that an abortion patient file a police report to receive the procedure. However, for every 1,000 sexual assaults, only 310 are reported to the police, according to statistics from RAINN, the nation’s leading sexual assault organization. Of these reports, only 25 ultimately lead to the arrest of the perpetrator.”

“We know that many victims of sexual violence do not want to report it to law enforcement. It’s one of the most underreported and least prosecuted crimes,” said Mary Ziegler, a professor at the University of California, Davis School of Law, who studies the legal history of reproduction. “Some of these laws not only require you to report to law enforcement, but that you do so in a certain way and within a certain time frame, which might not really work for traumatized people.”

“Occasionally you’ll see these statistics where essentially people are saying, ‘There are very few abortions in cases of sexual violence,’ and I think that’s probably not true,” Ziegler continued. “Prior to Roe’s overthrow, many victims of sexual violence did not invoke rape or incest exemptions or report the reasons for their abortions. They just had abortions.”

Roxane Sutocky manages communications for the Women’s Centers, a network of abortion clinics with locations in New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Georgia. While she said she doesn’t know of any rape victims in Georgia who have asked for abortions since Roe’s fall, Pennsylvania clinics are used to handling rape and incest exceptions. Although abortion remains legal there, Medicaid can only be used in cases of rape, incest, or medical emergencies.

“Depending on the insurance company, reporting there is very time-consuming. Once in a while [it] even requires an additional visit for pre-approval ultrasound scans, which in and of itself may cause undue delays,” Sutocky said. “Many people don’t want to have to go through the hassle of documenting their experiences and may feel retraumatized by the process just to have cover in these cases.”

Despite the lack of incentive to report, the mere existence of this requirement suggests that lawmakers and law enforcement believe people will lie about rape to obtain abortions.

“There was a theory that if people waited too long to report that the people who waited had time to make up a story or something, basically there wasn’t real sexual assault,” Ziegler said. “You hear loophole arguments all the time.” (Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio recently made a similar point about laws that would allow people to have abortions saying they could kill themselves if they couldn’t terminate their pregnancy.)

Even in cases where people report sexual assaults to law enforcement, it’s not yet clear how abortion bans will affect police ability to respond. dr Eve Espey, a New Mexico midwife who performs abortions, said since Roe’s fall she has been treating more patients who have been raped or who have survived incest. “We’ve had several CoC cases from Texas, which is really challenging, especially minors who have been raped,” Espey said. “Our law enforcement agencies are working with Texas law enforcement to try to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

One of the raped children who fled Ohio for an abortion ended up having the process in Indiana, according to legal records. Law enforcement had to go to Indiana to pick up tissue to test in case the child was sexually assaulted.

“I am concerned that Ohio’s ban and the need to travel greater and greater distances to receive abortion treatment will not only cause unimaginable harm to these young victims,” ​​an Ohio abortion clinic worker said in a affidavit, “but also could hamper the investigative ability of law enforcement agencies and prosecute these cases in the future.”

After the midterms, when anti-abortion forces lost every federal abortion policy and the Republican “red wave” failed to materialize, anti-abortion activists doubled down on the narrative that the GOP needed to be tougher on abortion. With state legislatures opening up in January, lawmakers will have a new opportunity to add exceptions to their abortion bans — or tighten them even further.

Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life, tweeted that the interim results proved that the anti-abortion movement needed to focus more on federal abortion restrictions. “Like other injustices our nation has faced in the past, some states will simply refuse to recognize human rights and progress,” she wrote.

Students for Life spokesperson Kristi Hamrick told VICE News that the organization rejects “prejudice against children based on circumstances beyond their control.”

“Rape should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But I think one of the questions we need to ask is, does the violence of abortion heal or mitigate the violence of rape?” Hamrick said. “I think everyone looks at the legal framework for the last 50 years and asks what’s next? What do we have to keep? What needs to be changed? I think it’s a conversation that runs across the political spectrum, whether you’re pro-life or pro-abortion.

The parents of the raped Mississippi teenager told their local news outlet that they were never “pro-abortion advocates,” as the newspaper put it, but they felt like they made the best possible choice under dire circumstances.

“There was no attempt to wait and waste time,” her father said. “Our first instinct, you know, was her future.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *