This is a story about a little girl named Effie. She was about 10 years old when I met her, some 50 years ago. Truth is, I don’t really remember what she looked like—only that she was slight, mousey, somewhat unkempt looking, and subdued.
I met her in the hospital. I was in the ob/gyn ward for testing and a surgical procedure. Back then, hospital rooms were either two patients to a room (that was the more private level of care) or a ward of 8 patients. There was no such thing as a private room.
Since the testing I was undergoing was not painful or strenuous, when no tests were scheduled I was “free to roam”—within limits, of course. But I could walk around the ob/gyn area. And that’s how I met Effie.
Understandably, all of the patients in this area were women—and all were there for reasons relating to women’s reproductive health. The gynecological patients (which I was) were separated from the obstetric patients. So, there were no newborn babies or nursing mothers nearby.
In the course of my wandering around the area, I met a Puerto Rican woman, in one of the 8 bed wards. She was in her mid-50s—likely in the hospital for a hysterectomy. The nurses were very concerned about her because she wasn’t eating. Keep in mind, this was in the days before “get you in and get you out” hospital stays. You could be there for upward to a week for even routine surgery. So, her not eating was of concern. Because I am nosey, and was wandering around chatting with other patients, I quickly discovered the Puerto Rican woman spoke no English. The daily food choices were printed on menus in English and given to patients each day to circle their choices for meals. If nothing was circled, the default meat was beef. This woman did NOT like beef. After talking with her a bit (dusting off my high school Spanish), I learned that she had not been circling any choice on her daily menu. So, she constantly was served food she didn’t like. A bit of quick translation on my part—pollo y puerco—and she was able to give her preference and began eating again. (When the nurses discovered my “translating skills,” they asked me to tell the woman not to smoke with the oxygen tanks so close by!)
Back to Effie. As you can see, she was an anomalous patient. She didn’t need ovarian surgery, as I did. She didn’t need a hysterectomy as did the Puerto Rican woman. And, I assumed she wasn't pregnant because this was not the obstetric part of the hospital. So, what was her problem? When I talked with her, all she could tell me was that she understood she had a “growth” in her and needed to have it removed so she could get better.
Well, that piqued my curiosity. Growth? In a gynecological ward? It didn’t take much figuring to work out that she WAS pregnant. I was so stunned, that I asked a nurse—why does Effie think she has a growth and doesn’t know she is pregnant. The nurse explained (note: this was in the pre-HIPPA days) that a) the child had no sexual understanding at all. Obviously, she hadn’t been told “the facts of life,” including what it meant when she began menstruating early; b) she was about 8-10 weeks pregnant; c) she had been impregnated by her father; and d) the hospital was going to use a procedure which would cause her to go into “labor", deliver the fetus, and then go home. BUT she was NOT to be told why she would have all this done—that she was pregnant.
That’s the last I heard of Effie. I have long wondered what happened to her? Did she return home to be abused again? Did she realize, when she reached adulthood, that the pains were that she experienced as a girl in the hospital was actually “labor”? Where did she end up in life?
So, why I am telling you this long story? I am telling you this because this is a sad occasional reality. Pre-teen girls become pregnant because someone impregnates them. A medically safe abortion is a kindness for that young girl. I am also telling you this story because it happened in 1970—before the Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade. Then, without abortion being legal and safely available, women AND girls who became pregnant had few options. Yet, someone found a way to have Effie’s wrong pregnancy terminated. Not that I think it was handled in a way that was psychologically healthy—but it was handled.
I leave you to draw your own conclusions about what criminalizing abortion will do. BUT one thing I can tell you—it will NOT end abortion. But it will end medically safe procedures. Like it or not, you cannot accomplish the end of abortion until you make it impossible for a woman OR girl to become pregnant.