The tragic real-life consequences of Texas’ cruel abortion law are nowhere more evident than at the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center whose job it is to support child victims of sexual assault and their families.
Their job has gotten much more difficult because Texas’ new abortion law, which conservative judges have allowed to take effect, bans all abortions after about six weeks, even in cases of rape, sexual abuse and incest.
Sharon Grigsby, a reporter for the Dallas News, visited the center where staff members told her of recent pregnant rape victims as young as 9 years old. In one recent month, seven pregnant 12-year-olds and their caregivers sought help at the advocacy center, Grigsby reported.
“You go down and meet with them for the first time and they look every bit 12 years old,” Mindy Jackson, the center’s director of support services, told Grigsby. “They’re small, young, in a cute little T-shirt and rainbow shoelaces.”
(Note: The story is behind a pay wall.)
Grigsby has first-hand knowledge of the issues that the adults and children who find themselves at the advocacy center are struggling with. She has written about the trauma she still endures decades after suffering years of sexual abuse as a child.
“I cannot fathom how much worse my family’s tragedy would have been had it also involved a pregnancy,” she wrote.
“I wonder whether any of the lawmakers who voted for Senate Bill 8 considered those most vulnerable victims, those 9- to 12-years-old, and the difficulties the abortion ban puts in front of them and their families. …
“Lawmakers would be wise to take another look at the real-life consequences of SB 8 — at the faces behind that phrase “cases of rape, sexual abuse and incest” — and consider something more noble than notching another red-meat talking point for their next primary election.”
One motivating factor in Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to push the nation’s most restrictive abortion law is that he faces two even more extreme right-wing challengers in next year’s Republican gubernatorial primary, including former Texas GOP chairman Allen West.
At the advocacy center, children can receive clothes, toys and “court/coping bags” filled with snacks and quiet distractions to help victims feel as relaxed as possible during courtroom proceedings.
The center’s staff has always avoided getting caught up in the political debate over abortion. Instead, its role is to support victims and their families, provide therapy to help children deal with their trauma, and offer as many options and resources as possible.
In cases involving a pregnancy, it was left to the family to decide whether to go through with the pregnancy and either raise the child or put the baby up for adoption, or to seek an abortion.
But the new Texas law eliminates the abortion option. Having already suffered through rape, these pre-teen victims’ must now endure the emotional and physical trauma of carrying and delivering their rapist’s child and the lifetime consequences.
These children are also more likely to come from poor families who lack the financial means to take time off work and travel long distances to abortion clinics in other states.
Grigsby wrote that the advocacy center’s staff shared stories of 12-year-olds trying to find maternity clothes and continuing to attend school as their pregnancy progresses. And as they walk around their neighborhood, anyone can see that they’re pregnant.
“There is so much guilt and shame,” regardless of which option the family took with the pregnancy, Katrina Cook, the advocacy center’s director of clinical services, told Grigsby.
“We want to challenge that thought,” Cook said. “But when an 11-year-old is visibly pregnant and sees the whole world looking at her, I can’t challenge that.”
Last week, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman did the right thing when he temporarily blocked the law at the request of the Justice Department, saying he would “not sanction one more day of this offensive deprivation of such an important right.”
But at the request of Texas’ Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the most conservative appellate court in the country, temporarily reinstated the law while the legal fights continue. The 5th Circuit has set its next hearing on the case for the week of Dec. 6.
So far Texas has skirted around judicial review of the law’s constitutionality by having the abortion ban enforced by private individuals rather than government officials.
Under the law, private Individuals can sue anyone who helps a woman get an abortion after cardiac activity is detected in the womb, usually around the six-week mark. Many women do not even know they are pregnant at that point. Successful lawsuits can result in an award of at least $10,000 to the person who filed the complaint and compensation for legal costs.
The Justice Department has gone back to the U.S. Supreme Court to request that it block Texas’ abortion ban from taking effect while the case its way through the courts.
But in early September, the conservative ideologues on the high court allowed the Texas law to go into effect in a controversial 5-4 “shadow docket” ruling in another case even though many legal analysts viewed the six-week abortion ban as clearly unconstitutional.
What does this mean for the pregnant child rape victims who are showing up at the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center?
If the Supreme Court once again allows the Texas law to remain in effect on a technicality, it will take months before there is any definitive court ruling.
The delay will mean that many of these children will have to carry their pregnancy for months, making it ever more difficult for them to get an abortion.