The closest abortion clinic for a 13-year-old Black girl in Cleveland, Miss., who was raped is 600 miles away in Chicago. Although Mississippi has a near-total abortion ban, pregnant people can get an abortion due to rape or if the pregnancy is causing life-threatening conditions. But the girl and her mother were unaware of the exception, and the 13-year-old had her baby this summer, Charlotte Alter reported for Time Magazine on Aug. 14.
A stranger raped the girl in the yard outside her house in fall 2022, her mother says. They learned she was pregnant on Jan. 11, when she was about 10 weeks along. Time used pseudonyms for the girl and her mother, calling them Ashley and Regina, to protect the identity of the juvenile rape victim.
“I wish she had just told me when it happened. We could have gotten Plan B or something,” Regina told Time, mentioning the emergency contraceptive that can prevent pregnancy up to 72 hours after sex. “That would have been that.”
Ashley and her mother reported the rape to the police, but the girl still was not able to get an abortion in the state because Mississippi does not have an abortion clinic anymore. The Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Mississippi’s last clinic that was better known as the Pink House, closed its doors in July 2022 following the U.S. Supreme Court overturning of Roe v. Wade.
Regina thought of taking Ashley to Chicago to get an abortion, but she did not have the money to get there or to pay for the procedure, and she could not take time off work. The 13-year-old had her baby this summer.
Limited Access to Care
The Woman’s Clinic in Clarksdale, Miss., can attend to normal pregnancies, but people with high-risk pregnancies would need to travel 72 miles each way to see a specialist in Memphis, Tenn. Mississippi does not have adequate prenatal care in half of its counties, either. Dr. Katherine Sacks, associate director of health economics at the Milken Institute, said going without prenatal care can be fatal.
“There’s definitely an overlap between where you see high maternal mortality and where you see maternal care deserts,” she told the Mississippi Free Press on Aug. 2.
Ashley’s pregnancy was healthy, but child mothers have higher risks of pregnancy-related mortality. Pregnant girls aged 10 through 19 have higher risks of puerperal endometritis, eclampsia and systemic infections than women between the ages of 20 and 24, the World Health Organization says. Babies of young mothers are likely to be born prematurely or at a low weight or to have a “severe neonatal condition.”
Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, permitting states to have abortion restrictions at any phase of pregnancy. The court upheld the Mississippi’s law that bans abortions after 15 weeks. Before the ruling, Ashley could have traveled 90 minutes north to Memphis, Tenn., or two hours south to Jackson, Miss., to receive an abortion.
Democratic candidate for attorney general Greta Kemp Martin said Ashley’s story is all too common in Mississippi after lawmakers restricted access to abortion.
“What we are seeing in this post-Dobbs landscape that was created by my opponent is that we have restricted policies across the state that do not allow women to get the care that they need,” she told MSNBC on Aug. 19. “And even the exceptions that are in place are narrowly interpreted and in some cases are fearfully applied. And in this case in particular, it failed.”
The candidate added that the question of how victims of rape would gain approval to get abortions is unclear because the state offers no “clear process for granting these exceptions.” And if an exception is granted, a doctor may refuse to do the procedure, she said.
“I believe there has to be some broad interpretations of these exceptions,” she said. “Even the exception that allows an abortion for the life of a mother, we have physicians who are fearful of even utilizing that exception to treat their patients because they’re afraid they’ll be penalized, they’ll be criminalized, (or) they’ll have their license taken away from them.”
Martin said lawmakers need to add more exceptions for abortions, like in cases of incest.
‘Life Begins at Conception’
Abortion is unacceptable in any case, even if a child is raped, House Speaker Philip Gunn told reporters in 2022.
“I believe life begins at conception,” he said. “Every life is valuable. And those are my personal beliefs.”
Several Republican candidates spoke of their support for the anti-abortion movement at the Neshoba County Fair in July, including Gunn. He touted the six “pro-life” measures he and his Republican colleagues put into place over his 12 years as a member of the House of Representatives, including passing House Bill 1510 in 2018, which banned abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
“What happened was that bill worked its way all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and it was the bill that overturned Roe v. Wade,” Gunn said at the Neshoba County Fair on July 26, 2023.
Regina filed a police report after learning that a rapist had impregnated her daughter, naming a potential suspect. The police reportedly did not do anything until after Charlotte Alter asked them several times if they had updates on the case, and they eventually got a DNA sample from Ashley’s baby. Clarksdale Assistant Police Chief Vincent Ramirez told Time Magazine, though, that the case was “high priority” because Ashley is a minor.
“It’s a pretty high priority, as a juvenile,” he told Time, “but sometimes they slip a little bit because we’ve got a lot going on, but then they come back to it.”
The girl and her family are moving to be away from her rapist and closer to family, Alter said on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Aug. 15. Regina made a GoFundMe to help the family pay for bills and relocation expenses and keep Ashley in school.
“Regina and Ashley hope that these funds can help them give Peanut (the baby) a better life,” the mother wrote on the fundraiser note.
Ashley will start seventh grade online this fall and transition to in-person classes. She told Time that her advice for girls was to “be careful when you go outside, and stay safe.”