I was shocked the first time I saw a pregnant teenager. I was in the ninth grade, and a girl I had known for three years came back from summer vacation with a big, hard belly. She walked the halls quietly with her dark eyes downcast, making sure to not to speak what was already obvious. I’d heard about teenagers having unprotected sex and getting pregnant, but I’d never seen a real live 14-year-old mother-to-be. It was surreal.
After that, pregnancies were no longer surprising at my Gulfport, Mississippi, school. Upperclassmen and freshmen, white and black, popular and not-so-popular girls grew bellies. The most seemingly innocent girls in school disappeared from the social scene only to return with child or with adoption rumors swirling over their heads. Some even came back with husbands, but that was rare.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mississippi had 55 births per 1,000 teens aged 15 to 19 in 2010, 60 percent higher than the U.S. average. Having seen so many young pregnant women during my high school years–their college dreams stalled, their families further strained–it pains me to know that teenage girls in Mississippi may no longer have the option to terminate their pregnancy if that’s what they decide is best for them. HB1390, a law signed in April that would require a facility’s physicians to have admitting privileges at a local hospital and be board-certified obstetrician-gynecologists, in effect ends abortion entirely in the state. Because such privileges are tough to acquire, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the only abortion clinic left, would be shuttered.
While U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III continues to block the law thus keeping the clinic open for now, I feel it may all be for naught. Gov. Phil Bryant couldn’t care less about not having a place for women to seek safe abortions in the state, and Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves thinks the law “protect[s] women.” Neither of them seem to have considered that low-income, mostly black women are the ones who will suffer from this law. And even though my old Southern Baptist church is home to many of these women, I can’t help feeling that everyone is dancing in the pews. They’re not only “protecting” women’s rights, but God’s plan. That’s not easy to fight with.
Abortions are certainly not the only answer for unexpected pregnancies, but it would be a disgrace, to say the least, if Mississippi women lose that option entirely. It’s already enough that women have to travel to the state’s capital for the procedure–driving 200 miles away to Alabama, Louisiana, or Tennessee puts even more financial strain on families.
High school students have enough to contend with as it is. The GOP-led Mississippi legislature, however, doesn’t seem to care. They’re doing what they think is divinely ordered, a noble cause to save all of God’s precious unborn children. Sadly, impoverished girls and women will foot the bill.