For one rape survivor, abortion bans recall a painful history The story of a young rape victim in Ohio who had to travel out of state for an abortion this summer is recalling painful memories for an older generation.

For one rape survivor, new abortion bans bring back old, painful memories

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New abortion bans are taking effect across the country this week, some with virtually no exceptions. The nation has seen these kinds of laws before. And in a moment, NPR's Sarah McCammon is going to bring us one woman's story about living at a time when there was no right to an abortion, even for victims of rape. But first, I want to ask Sarah to round up the new developments this week. Hey there.


KELLY: All right. So walk us through where these new abortion bans have kicked in this week and what the impact is so far.

MCCAMMON: So yesterday, Texas, Tennessee and Idaho all saw trigger laws take effect. These, of course, are those laws written in anticipation of Roe v. Wade being overturned. Now, these are taking effect in states, Mary Louise, they already had abortion restrictions in place. But these new laws make providing most or all abortions a felony. And providers could face jail time. A North Dakota judge also this week blocked that state's trigger ban that was set to take effect today, but it's on hold, at least for now.


MCCAMMON: Elisabeth Smith with the Center for Reproductive Rights says when you look at the map, abortion access increasingly looks like a patchwork system depending on geography.

ELISABETH SMITH: Without federal protection for abortion rights, access is completely determined by where someone lives and their ability to leave their state if there's no access in their state.

MCCAMMON: So now at least 11 states have total or near-total abortion bans, along with several others like Georgia that still have early restrictions starting around six weeks of pregnancy.

KELLY: Right. And again, you said 11 states now have total or near-total bans. Any exception for rape or incest?

MCCAMMON: Some of them do. In Texas and Tennessee, though, there are no exceptions for rape or incest, and those are just the latest states to implement laws along those lines. You may remember the case of a 10-year-old girl this summer who had become pregnant as a result of rape and had to travel to Indiana from her home state of Ohio, which has a near-total abortion ban, no exception for rape. In the aftermath of that case, I interviewed a woman named Elaine, who had come forward to tell her story about what happened to her many years ago. And just a warning - the story does contain references to sexual assault. Elaine says when she saw those news stories about the 10-year-old in Ohio this summer, it was hard for her to look away.

ELAINE: Well, I knew it was coming. I knew that it was only a matter of time before someone like me hit the news and that a doctor would go public on the effects of these laws. And I was sad and angry.

MCCAMMON: That doctor was Caitlin Bernard, an OB-GYN in Indiana. Her story about a young patient who was unable to get an abortion at home in Ohio after a ban there took effect prompted a backlash from conservative leaders. Without producing any evidence, Indiana's Republican attorney general questioned the doctor's credibility and threatened to investigate her. For Elaine, the story took her back to 1969, when she was just 11, a sixth-grader growing up in Amarillo, Texas, the youngest of five in a big Catholic family.

ELAINE: I was a tomboy. I liked sports. I rode my bike everywhere. I walked miles and miles and miles barefoot. I was kind of precocious. I was kind of a class clown, actually.

MCCAMMON: Now 65 and living in Santa Fe, N.M., Elaine has asked us to call her only by her middle name because she fears her family could face backlash from her telling the story from her childhood.

ELAINE: I shared a room with my 14-year-old sister. And we went to bed at about 10 p.m. And at about 1 in the morning, all of a sudden, I saw the door open to our bedroom.

MCCAMMON: A man snuck in and climbed into her bed. As her sister slept across the room, Elaine says the man raped her, threatening to kill her unless she stayed quiet. Eventually, her sister did wake up and chased the man out of the house. That's when Elaine says all hell broke loose as her parents and the rest of her siblings also woke up to her screaming.

ELAINE: My mom called the police and our family doctor, and he examined me. And I didn't know this until I got the police reports recently, but he reported to the police that I had, in fact, been raped. So that's what happened that night.

MCCAMMON: In a police report dated January 15, 1969, 2:58 a.m., Elaine and her family recounted those events to Amarillo police. The report, reviewed by NPR, describes the suspect as a white man between 20 and 30 years old. He was never caught, but the trauma from that night would stay with Elaine in her mind and her body long afterward.

ELAINE: One of my sisters told me many years later that after I got back from the hospital, I was taking a bath, of course. And I was singing in the bathtub. And knowing what I know now, I think that's a pretty good indication that I was dissociative, that I had checked out.

MCCAMMON: Elaine was in the early stages of puberty and didn't know what to look out for after the rape. But her mother was paying attention. Several weeks later, around the time of Elaine's 12th birthday in April, her mother said they needed to go back to the doctor.

ELAINE: And she took me to our family doctor, the same one that examined me in the hospital, and the same doctor who had delivered me 11 years before.

MCCAMMON: Elaine says she didn't understand then what was happening, but now, as a retired pharmacist, she does.

ELAINE: My mom just said, we've got to, you know, fix some problems down there. And I said, OK. Fine. And what I remember about that was the pain. And I didn't know what he was doing. But now, through adult eyes, looking - and with the medical background, I know that he was curettaging. My anesthesia was squeezing my mother's hand. It didn't take long, but it was painful.

MCCAMMON: It was dilation and curettage, a common abortion procedure known as D&C. Elaine says her mother explained what had happened a few years later when she was in her mid-teens. When she reflects on it now, she says she's grateful for how her mother, who died in 2010, handled an impossible situation. And she says she understands that some people have strong moral objections to abortion.

ELAINE: My mother was very Catholic, and this is what I would point out to people who have this kind of theoretical vision of how they would react in this kind of a situation. I'm here to tell you, in this kind of a situation, you would throw out your religion in half a second. There's no question. It's easy to say what other people should do when it's theoretical.

MCCAMMON: She couldn't fully face the trauma from her experience for many years, after she became a mother.

ELAINE: When I turned 40, and I had an 11-year-old daughter, a lot of my grief was really realizing what it must have been like for my mother to go through something like that. I looked at my own 11-year-old daughter. I can't blame my mother for anything. She did the best she could in a terrible situation, so she did the right thing.

MCCAMMON: Elaine spent about three years in therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. And she says she's sharing her story now because she wants to make clear that these situations do happen, even if people would rather not think about them.

ELAINE: I think a big part of the reason why we're seeing these draconian laws is because it's been 50 years since Roe was passed and a few generations have grown up. And enough people in today's society don't remember what it was like pre-Roe.

MCCAMMON: In 1969, abortion was illegal in Texas, except to save a pregnant woman's life, as it is again now. While the rape itself was thoroughly documented by Amarillo police at the time, no such records of the abortion appear to exist. Elaine's doctor died decades ago. And abortions were often carried out in secret, says historian Leslie Reagan, author of the book "When Abortion Was A Crime." She says people who had resources or connections could sometimes find doctors who discreetly offer the procedure if the doctor felt it was warranted.

LESLIE REAGAN: Something like this where the patient knows the doctor or the doctor knows the patient and the family, they could be very sympathetic to the situation, which means they would do it. I mean, my guess would be he probably never wrote anything down about this because why would he?

MCCAMMON: NPR spoke to two family members who say they remember hearing about the rape for years, including one who recalls discussing the abortion more recently. Reagan says what's happening now looks very much like a repeat of the past.

REAGAN: This is the result. This is going to be one of the results. The other results are some people will go all the way through pregnancies - and they're children - and will be forced into birth.

MCCAMMON: Elaine says she sometimes thinks about what would have happened to her without her family doctor if she'd been forced to continue the pregnancy as a sixth-grader still reeling from the trauma of rape.

ELAINE: I probably would have been shipped off somewhere to have the baby. But for me, being 4'10", 100 pounds, it would have been a guaranteed C-section, no question. Just the thought of that is just abhorrent.

MCCAMMON: Now retired with three grown children, living with her husband in a house high on a hill overlooking the mountains around Santa Fe, Elaine says she feels compelled to speak up for girls like her who can't.

ELAINE: What these children need, above all, is for it to be over. They need the trauma to stop. If I were to meet Dr. Bernard's 10-year-old patient, I would take her face in my hands, and I would look in her eyes, and I would say, this was not your fault. This was a bad, bad man who did this to you. And you're going to have a lot of people who love you, who are going to help you get through this. And you're going to be OK - not your fault.

MCCAMMON: More than 50 years later, Elaine says she got through her unthinkable experience with support from her family and a doctor willing to risk breaking the law to help her.

KELLY: Reporting there from NPR's Sarah McCammon.

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