Reviews | I was raped by my father. An abortion saved my life.


The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Wednesday on the constitutionality of a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi that makes no exceptions for rape or incest. At stake in this case is the countless girls and women who have been raped, including those like me who have been raped by a father, uncle or other family member.

It was in the early morning of my 10th birthday the first time I was raped by my father. It wouldn’t be the last. The shock was so severe that I temporarily went blind before starting fifth grade a few weeks later. By the time the school year started, my father had taken me to see a battery of doctors – a medical explanation would cover up the fact that the trauma from his sexual violence had caused my body to shut down.

The physiological suffering I endured included severe migraines, hair loss, and even gray hair – at age 10. While other girls might have yearned for puberty, I hated the idea. My body became a vessel that was not mine. It had been taken from me. I lived in fear of the night and of the footsteps in front of my bedroom door.

I turned to the cupboards – found the deepest corner, sat with a flashlight, read and rocked. It wasn’t until years later, when I was in therapy at 16, that I realized that my unintentional shift in relation to these experiences was the manifestation of my stress and anxiety.

My father’s predations were hidden behind wealth, social status, and his role as an engaged and caring parent. I attended elite schools in New York City, studied ballet at a renowned academy, and took private lessons in violin and tennis. My father never missed a parent-teacher conference. However, this veneer of normalcy belied the intimate family violence that had started years earlier with her physical abuse of my mother. Sometimes he was so violent that she was hospitalized.

When I was 12, I was pregnant with my father and had an abortion. Before going to the doctor, I didn’t know I was pregnant. My dad lied about my age and the circumstances of my pregnancy, telling the doctor that I was 15 and had been reckless with a boyfriend. My father shook his head, explaining to the doctor that he was doing everything he could as a single parent – my parents had divorced by that time – but that I was out of control. Both men seemed to express contempt for me. For many years, the shame of my father’s lie lingered with me – the stereotype embedded in the narrative of the hypersexualized and risky black girl.

My shame was never about the abortion. I will always be grateful that my pregnancy was terminated. I am fortunate to have spared my body further trauma imposed by my father – trauma that today would be forced by some state legislatures and courts. No child should be pressured or expected to carry a pregnancy and give birth, or feel remorse, guilt, doubt or unease about an abortion under any circumstances, without talk about rape or incest.

As Judge Harry Blackmun acknowledged in his majority opinion in Roe v. Wade in 1973, the obstacles to a decent life are enormous when there is an unwanted pregnancy – for many, they are insurmountable.

Ultimately, my solution was to leave the economic security of home at the age of 15. It is also a decision that I will never regret. But it was not easy. When I left I had $ 10 and no access to the savings account my father held for me. I enrolled in a public school on Staten Island. To support myself, I cleaned the house of a very nice couple. I lived in an unfinished attic and survived on a modest diet consisting mostly of beans, rice, and cans of tuna. To gain my freedom from my parents, I went to court, where I was interrogated by ill-prepared and insensitive lawyers about rape in my childhood.

As a survivor of childhood rape and pregnancy – and now a law professor who teaches constitutional law and bioethics – I recognize the grave dangers of the current crop of abortion bans.

In Texas, the right to abortion makes virtually no sense under Senate Bill 8, which bans most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, when many people won’t know they are. pregnant. Like the Mississippi ban, it makes no exceptions for rape or incest.

Given the significance of the Supreme Court’s deliberations this week and the naive bravado of Texas Governor Greg Abbott suggesting that rape will disappear in its state with a tough approach to crime, I felt compelled to speak up.

The governor imagines that he can “Take all the rapists off the streets of Texas”, but like many abusers, my father was respected in the community, a successful businessman who was adored by his family, friends and colleagues. I, on the other hand, felt alone and in fear. I was not only sexually abused, but also physically. I was threatened to shut up and my father told me to “cringe and put up with it”.

No one ever wants to write about such experiences, expose intimate aspects of their life, revisit traumatic aspects of childhood. This is probably one of the main reasons incest survivors don’t come forward. While our society is increasingly enlightened about sexual assault and abuse, survivors often pay a price. In college, a prominent professor warned me never to speak or write about my experiences. He believed that I had a bright future ahead of me and that I could be personally and professionally hurt by sharing my story.

Yet the lack of compassion and pride that underlies Mississippi and Texas legislation deserves a response.

With these laws, the state has indeed forced girls to bear the burden of its desires, forcing many of them to risk their health – and even risk death – by staying pregnant. Like a military conscription, the state has coercively enlisted victims of rape and incest to bear an additional burden. To take another devastating physical and mental blow. To link their life to that of their rapists. This time, it is the state legislators who put their bodies at the service.

This project – the Pregnancy Project – is a war at home, and the state leaves its daughters on the battlefield to fend for themselves. Rather than providing aid and care, states often punish girls who run away from their homes after experiencing sexual violence. Over 80 percent of girls in some states’ juvenile justice systems are victims of sexual or physical violence. For so many of these girls their pipelines don’t come from the young at university and college, but in juvenile detention and possibly in prison. Their lives are considered expendable and not worth saving.

Abortion bans represent more than isolated laws or state rights – they represent an attack on fundamental principles of liberty, liberty and autonomy. As Justice Blackmun noted in a 1986 majority opinion which reaffirmed Roe, “few decisions are more personal and intimate, more properly private, or more fundamental to individual dignity and autonomy” than the decision to discontinue. pregnancy. Abortion bans that make no exceptions for rape and incest are a particularly cruel and immoral type of legislation.

For these reasons, this is a crucial time for the Supreme Court to issue a fix and show that here, too, the arc of the moral universe can be long, but as Reverend Martin Luther King Jr predicted ., he leans towards justice – and that includes protecting girls.

Ms. Goodwin is Professor of Law at the University of California, Irvine, and Founding Director of the UCI Law Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy and its Reproductive Justice Initiative.

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