By NIRAN AL-AGBA, MD (7)
I will never forget her face. She was only thirteen. She had a significant cognitive disability, a result of an anoxic injury at birth. She found her way to my clinic one late Friday afternoon in July almost two decades ago. Her mother was a nurse and noticed her daughter had not had a period in the last two months. Her pregnancy test came back positive. I wanted to cry.
The questions I had to ask this young girl were agonizing. When asked if she had sex, she looked at me and shook her head back and forth, to say no, she had not had sex before. She was telling the truth. Having sex implies consent. When I asked if someone had touched her private area, she nodded her head up and down and said there were two boys. She thought they might have been about her age. She did not know who they were. She had never seen them before or since. I asked if she could remember their faces. She could not.
The two boys pushed her down on a grassy area next to the high school football field when she was walking home one day. She remembered it was raining because she had been looking up at the sky until they stopped hurting her. She told me about the pain she experienced, down there, and she pointed to her vaginal area. She told me there was some bleeding afterward at home. She did not tell anyone about what had happened, even her mother. I am not sure if she really understood what had been done to her. I tried to put myself in her place to understand how hard it must be to be telling me her story now.
Taking her small hand in mine, I told her she was pregnant. Her shoulders slumped forward and she looked at the floor. “Do you know what that means?” She nodded her head up and down, then said “there is a baby in here” gesturing toward her abdomen. It was more question than answer. She was not capable of understanding how horrifying it was that she never made a choice to become a mother.
She was still a child herself.
For the record, in regard to my uterus, I am pro-life. I believe children are a gift to those of us who are lucky enough to have them, if even for a fleeting moment. As a pediatrician, I have devoted my entire life to taking care of children, from the instant they are born until they go on to have their own children. And then I have the privilege to care for those children as well. There is no greater thing on earth than a child and protecting that child, the one in front of me, will always be my priority.
But how can any civilized society reconcile being pro-life with forcing one child to bear another child – one that the child never consented to produce in the first place?
It is inhumane.
How many other victims can tell the same story? There are far more than the pro-life movement wants to acknowledge.
Like the fourteen-year-old girl I met one night in the emergency room. She had recently gained weight and her mother was concerned something might be wrong. I remember her uncertain expression; she was so young and seemed so afraid. Her pregnancy test was positive. I asked about sex and she denied having it. Then she said she and her mother had recently lost their home and out of necessity, had moved in with her aunt and uncle.
Shortly thereafter, her uncle began visiting her room at night. She had asked him to stop touching her, but her uncle threatened to kick her mother and her out onto the street if she told anyone about what he did to her at night. By the time we met in the emergency department, incest had forced her into quasi-motherhood without her consent.
How can victimizing her twice — by then forcing her to give birth –be considered legal, ethical, or moral?
There is a great deal of irony on both sides of the political spectrum: conservatives support government-sanctioned uterine intervention, while vehemently fighting government oversight everywhere else. And at the same time, progressives endorse uterine autonomy while supporting government intervention on the rest of healthcare issues.
It is time to value a consistent stance: healthcare decision should be private, between a physician and a patient. If we prioritize this sacred relationship then it makes sense to be sympathetic toward parents who are resistant to vaccinating their children while supporting uterine autonomy for women and children.
The Alabama Human Life Protection Act is not intended to protect human life; this legislation is a veiled attempt to place value on one life over another. And by exempting victims of rape and incest, Alabama will serve as judge and jury, disrespecting the work already done by the highest court in the land. The question of legalized medical abortion has already been asked and answered by the Supreme Court in 1973.
The Alabama legislature is sanctioning physicians to be jailed for up to 99 years for performing an abortion, while at the same time, knowing full well that a first-time rape conviction carries a sentence of 20 years or less. The pro-life movement wants the nation to believe being pro-choice is akin to being anti-life, while obscuring the fact that women and children will be forced to give birth after victimization. Fighting to protect the right of women and children to make decisions about their own bodies is not the same as being pro-abortion.
In my opinion, Alabama is not pro-life. They are trying to legalize morality, which is dangerous. For the record, I am pro-life; the kind of pro-life that believes all human beings are equal. No civilized society should prioritize the life of an unborn child over that of the defenseless child who stands in front of them. Physicians, especially, must not acquiesce to politicians who want to force vulnerable women and children into back alleyways with coat hangers. The lives we must protect are those of the innocent women and children and their choice not to give birth to children they did not consent to make. Those who support Alabama are not pro-life; they stand in support of birth by force.