Ask me what comes to mind when I think of a ten year old girl and I immediately picture my own, recently-turned-eleven, daughter. Her school has just transitioned into summer uniform and so I imagine her in her striking and smart tartan dress with puffed sleeves and a white collar, a red wool blazer and fetching straw boater with school badge and red ribbons. I image her spindly legs in white ankle socks, think of the tangle of hair that she’s not very adept at brushing, the knots I have to tease out for her and I think of her mannerisms and personality. Sometimes desperately childlike, mad on chocolate, overuses the word ‘adorable’ (especially when referring to dogs and babies), sometimes socially awkward, shy and introverted, sometimes the polar opposite, photo-bombing at every opportunity, sometimes the stroppy, lazy adolescent that she potentially will be in a few years time and sometimes an incredibly mature, thoughtful and considerate young lady. One who will pro-actively shepherd her younger siblings up to bed, into their pyjamas, brush their teeth and read them a story at bedtime, in an attempt to help, as she sometimes did when she spotted that mummy was exhausted in the latter stages of pregnancy.
What doesn’t come to mind when you ask me about a ten year old girl is the image of a pregnant woman. Such a thing is just too dreadful to contemplate, not simply because of the loss of innocence, but because for such a thing to have happened would mean that my little girl had been through a brutal, violent and phsyically agonising ordeal which her little body is not ready to take and which no child should ever have to endure. A pregnant ten year old is the victim of child sex abuse and what mother or father ever wants to envisage their child in that situation? As for were she to be pregnant – I’d be terrified that her little body would snap and break under the ordeal.
Naturally then, this case of a pregnant ten year old in Paraguy, raped and pregnant by her step-father fills the world with horror and repugnance, not only at what the poor child has been through, but at what lies in front of her, be that a late-stage abortion or childbirth. When we think of ten year olds, we don’t think of women but of underdeveloped girls, most of whom bear no outward signs of womanhood and who have not undergone puberty. I’ve only recently been through pregnancy again myself; the relentless sickness, the crippling tiredness and the embarrassing intimate problems. It’s nine months of discomfort, of confusing symptoms, complete abandonment of control and of tremendous emotional and physical upheaval. For the most part in today’s society the experience is rendered more acceptable because it’s a freely undertaken choice with a desired outcome. An adult means to an adult end. Not an ordeal inflicted upon an ill-equipped, vulnerable young child.
But then how much of this is projection? While most Western 10 year old girls have not yet reached puberty, evidence suggests that not only is puberty beginning earlier, hence the drive for sex education at an ever-younger age, but also that different ethnic groups, such as African and Hispanics, may start puberty at around the age of 8. The idea of a pregnant child ought to continue to horrify us, but put very crudely, if a 10 year-old is actually able to conceive a child, presumably her body ought to be sufficiently developed to bear it? I can think of a few children within my daughter’s peer group who unbelievably already tower above me height wise, who have begun puberty and who most definitely look older than their years. It might be that this poor abused 10 year old is actually physically capable of delivering her child.
For the avoidance of doubt, that a child is able to conceive, is not an argument to suggest that they should conceive or even deliver a child of their own – the late stages of pregnancy and childbirth exact an enormous toll on even a fully-developed adult woman, but there isn’t evidence to suggest that pregnancy for every single, pre-teen is life-threatening. In this particular dreadful instance, nobody save the clinicians knows the medical specifics and so all the talk about it being life-threatening is a mixture of understandable projection and hyperbole. We imagine ourselves or children we know and love, being pregnant at the age of ten and are horrified. Currently the UK’s youngest mother was a 12 year old, who conceived at the age of 11 and a quick Wikki search demonstrates that there have been some mothers as young as 9 and 10.
What we do know, is that this pregnancy was discovered when the child was 22 weeks pregnant. The short-term future is none too pleasant either way. The fetus, if we going to pander to the popular de-humanising euphemism, is already a fully formed human being, discernably a real person with a face, eyelashes, hair, arms, legs, fingers, toes who will be kicking, swallowing, smiling, sucking their thumb and whatever. There’s no ‘easy’ way to abort at that stage. There’s no pill to pop to bring about an early miscarriage and no quick suction procedure. We’re talking about a 10 year old being asked to deliver a deceased 22 week baby, or a difficult, gruesome, potentially dangerous surgical procedure. Afterwards the child can expect to experience her milk coming in and will have the trauma of a lost baby to deal with, as if she didn’t already have enough to cope with.
The other option is for her to give birth. Again, not something that one would wish to inflict upon a 10 year old. But given the stage in her pregnancy, taking at face value the assertions that her life is at risk (which don’t seem to be evidenced anywhere) surely the kindest, most compassionate thing to do would be to continue to strictly monitor the child and then deliver her baby via cesarian section, under general anesthetic, as soon as it becomes necessary.
In terms of whether or not the girl ought to raise the baby, that surely ought to be a matter for her. What isn’t being reported is what her feelings are on the matter, all we know is that the mother has requested an abortion for her daughter, although the mother has also been arrested for breaching duty of care and being an accomplice to child abuse. According to Fox News Latino, she reported that her daughter was being sexually abused last January and yet continued to live with the perpetrator. She has also provided a number of false clues as to his whereabouts. We do not know and we cannot speculate on the mother’s motives, however it’s interesting to note that the mother’s wishes are being given weight or seen as taking precedence whereas in other cases in the UK of a pre-teen requesting abortion or contraception, provided the child is deemed to meet Gillick competence, the parents’ wishes would be overruled or they would not even be informed.
But it’s difficult to see how abortion could serve to make the issue any better in this unimaginably awful situation. Even had she been immediately granted a 22 week abortion, it would have been no walk in the park, however surely even a 10 year old, while she might lack the emotional maturity to cope with pregnancy, childbirth and a young baby, surely ought to be given the time to come to terms with the situation and have some input into the decision. Why would instantly whipping the baby out in a late-stage abortion have been the right thing to do, it would only have served to inflict more violence upon an already abused and hurting child and removed yet more autonomy from her.
And the elephant in the room is of course the unborn child, who is deemed to be of no consequence with no right to exist; their very presence being synonymous with atrocity. Why would it be so unfeasible for the child to be adopted and raised by a loving couple, or for the child herself to keep her baby, presuming this was what she wanted? Why is abortion being touted as the only solution in this instance?
I’m not denying that the pregnancy can not sometimes be high risk for adolescents, one of the factors being lack of prenatal care, I’m not advocating that ten year olds ought be having babies, I’m not assuming that a ten year old giving birth is like shelling peas, however what I am questioning is why it is being reported that the child’s life is at risk if she does not have an abortion. What health condition would the proposed abortion treat? As she is under the care of the authorities, then surely her pre-natal care will be better than for many others in her situation?
The other pressing question is why on earth Amnesty International have seen fit to get involved, what has this case got to do with someone being detained or imprisoned for their political beliefs? It is claimed that the girl is being forced to continue with an unwanted pregnancy, which is tantamount to torture and indeed no-one would want to inflict an unwanted pregnancy or child upon a child, however we are only being told that the mother requested the abortion for her daughter, not what the daughter’s thoughts are. Since when did Amnesty become an organisation about promoting pro-choice, abortion ideology instead of being about basic human rights, of which the right-to-life should be paramount? The word Amnesty is derived from the Greek, meaning ‘forgetfulness’, clearly the organisation has forgotten the Catholicism of their founder and there is to be no amnesty for the unborn children deemed burdensome due to potential maternal poverty.
Just as various groups exploited and politicised the tragedy of Savita Halapannaver to lobby for liberal abortion in Ireland, the same thing seems set to be happening in Paraguy.
What has happened is revolting and indefensible. It really is one of those compassionate hard cases for whom the Abortion Act in 1967 was devised. But it’s not clear how a latej-stage abortion performed upon a 10 year old girl by request of her mother, who happens to be married to her abuser, would go any way towards helping the girl on her long journey of healing.
Easy to say when it’s not my daughter, especially as I hear the strains of her earnestly practicing the piano floating up through the floorboards, bashing out Beethoven without a care in the world. But then I think of her cradling her baby brother, or tenderly helping her younger sisters and know that however terrible the ordeal she had been through, coaxing her to get rid of her own baby, even if it was with her best interests at heart, would not necessarily be the right answer. Please God, it’s something with which few mothers will ever be faced.