Game Change: Why Pro-Choicers Should Stop Dwelling on the Exceptions and Start Making the Rules

This week, the heart wrenching story of a pregnant 10-year-old, seemingly raped by her stepfather, has made international headlines, including here at Feministing. As CNN reports, the girl “has become the latest lightning rod in the country’s heated abortion debate.” In Mexico, the girl’s home country, abortion is legal in the capital city, but prohibited or significantly restricted in most states.
This is not the first time the case of a young victim of incest has drawn international media attention for its implications in the national and global abortion debate; in fact, we posted about a year ago on similar case in Brazil in which a nine-year-old Brazilian girl who was raped and impregnated by her stepfather was ultimately able to access an abortion (though was later excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church for doing so).
As they did in that instance, advocates have once again seized on this young girl’s case, hailing her as a “perfect victim” whose story should be used to illustrate the dangerous consequences of limiting women’s access to safe abortion. One blogger wrote on Feminists for Choice that this story “goes to show the devastating consequences that legal restrictions on late-term abortions can have on the lives of women around the world.” Another blogger on RHRealityCheck writes that the girl’s case “might make the anti-choice forces rethink their beliefs about forced pregnancy”.
It’s true that these cases provide very clear cut examples of the need for ensuring access to safe abortion for all. But so does every other case in which a woman seeks a safe abortion and is unable to access one. And as Miriam noted yesterday, for every young girl in this situation that gets media attention, there are hundreds others who also can’t access the abortions they need. Because despite their propensity for international media attention, cases such as those of the ten-year-old in Mexico and the nine-year-old in Brazil make up only a small percentage of the cases involving women seeking abortion.
Employing heartbreaking stories of rape and incest as “clear-cut” to demonstrate the need for safe abortion does a disservice to the world’s women by necessarily portraying their desire to access safe abortion under other circumstances as “less than perfect.”
The stories of these nine and ten year old girls–the violence inflicted upon them, the access to services they were then denied, the failure to secure their rights–should certainly enrage us, as members of a movement that aims to promote and protect women’s health and rights. But they should also remind us of the need to continue our work to advocate for social justice and abortion access in Mexico for ALL women, not just so-called “perfect victims”. The pro-choice movement can’t progress its agenda by dwelling on exceptions- it’s got to start making the rules, like establishing access to safe abortion as a human right for EVERY woman and girl.
Back in November, a post on Akimbo highlighted the first Mexican abortion fund, MARIA, which is designed to support women in traveling from the states in Mexico where abortion is criminalized to Mexico City, where abortion is legal in the first trimester. Visit their website for more information about the fight for abortion rights in Mexico and how you can get involved.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman started blogging with Feministing in 2008, and now runs partnerships and strategy as a co-Executive Director. She is also the Director of Youth Engagement at Women Deliver, where she promotes meaningful youth engagement in international development efforts, including through running the award-winning Women Deliver Young Leaders Program. Lori was formerly the Director of Global Communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and has also worked at the United Nations Foundation on the Secretary-General's flagship Every Woman Every Child initiative, and at the International Women’s Health Coalition and Human Rights Watch. As a leading voice on women’s rights issues, Lori frequently consults, speaks and publishes on feminism, activism and movement-building. A graduate of Harvard University, Lori has been named to The Root 100 list of the most influential African Americans in the United States, and to Forbes Magazine‘s list of the “30 Under 30” successful mediamakers. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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