It's Karen's Turn column: 10-year-olds do get pregnant, sadly
The following is an opinion column written by an Echo Press editorial staff member. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.
The furor over the pregnant 10-year-old rape victim in Ohio forced to travel to Indiana for an abortion reminded me of a 10-year-old girl I met while working in Alabama.
She was pregnant, too. She had been raped by her mother's boyfriend and by the time I met her, she was too far along in her pregnancy for an abortion. She was an elementary school student who was not allowed to attend school because of the consternation it would cause her classmates.
A 10-year-old going for regular checkups with the obstetrician. A fourth-grade student who should have been writing reports about butterflies or the Atlantic Ocean, learning whatever it is that fourth-graders learn. Instead, she spent her days in her family's trailer, hiding her swollen belly.
One of my friends in Alabama told me about her. I was working as a reporter for the Mobile Press-Register. I spent time with the girl's family. I talked to her. She didn't have much to say and for me, years away from being a mom, I didn't have the skills to draw out a 10-year-old.
A 10-year-old having a baby. There were murmurs that yes, it was too late for an abortion, but also, that the girl's family possibly opposed abortion. It was easier to avoid making a decision until it was too late.
As a reporter, I'm accustomed to setting aside my personal feelings about an issue. This time, I was angry. I met the girl's mom, jailed for an unrelated offense. I was so angry that she had failed to protect her daughter that I'm sure it showed in my eyes. The interview did not go well.
Pregnancies harm young girls. The unborn leaches calcium from the girl's growing body at a time when she needs it herself. Her pelvis is not fully developed, restricting the birth canal. They can develop debilitating fistulas, which are holes between the vaginal wall and the rectum or bladder. I can't even begin to imagine the toll on her mental health, her ability to form normal relationships and live a normal life.
In 2020, 1,765 girls age 14 and under gave birth in the United States, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Kid Count Data Center. How many of them were age 10, I don't know.
The more time I spent with the girl and her family, the sadder and angrier I grew. By that time, I was beginning to internalize society's growing criticisms of the news media. I worried that I was victimizing the girl more than she had already been. I worried about "splashing her story across the front page of the newspaper." (I heard that voice almost audibly, spoken with dripping disdain.) I figured that my presence in her life was the last thing she needed.
So I dropped the story. I decided to leave her alone. I heard she had a healthy baby. I think it was a boy. I never wrote about her until now.
Now she would be in her late 20s or early 30s, I suppose. I have thought about her often in the decades since I met her, a quiet, shy, chubby-faced girl, living with her grandparents in a trailer in rural Alabama. I wonder how she turned out. What happened to her baby. What she thinks of Alabama banning abortions except when the life of the mother is in danger. No exceptions for 10-year-old victims of rape.
“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.