New Reporting Shows Mississippi’s Abortion Rape Exception Is Almost Impossible to Access

Last summer, we learned about a 12-year-old girl in Mississippi who was impregnated by rape and unable to get abortion care. Despite the state's rape exception, just four abortions were performed throughout 2023.

New Reporting Shows Mississippi’s Abortion Rape Exception Is Almost Impossible to Access

Last summer, we learned the story of a 13-year-old girl in Mississippi who is currently balancing the seventh grade with raising her eight-month-old baby. The girl learned she was pregnant after being raped and was unable to access abortion care as a result of Mississippi’s ban which took effect in June 2022, Time first reported last summer. Her mother said that they were unaware that the abortion ban offered an exception for rape, and the family couldn’t afford to travel to Chicago, which is the nearest place where abortion is legal. They were left without any options.

According to a new report about the family from ABC News on Friday, despite the Mississippi abortion ban’s stated exception for rape, there were just four abortions in the state in 2023 (compared to 3,800 in 2021), suggesting the exception is highly inaccessible. In addition to a lack of awareness about the varying clauses of the abortion law, there’s a complete lack of direction or guidance about how to seek the exception: Last summer, Time contacted the state attorney general’s office, the state Board of Medical Licensure, and the state Medical Association seeking information about how to access the rape exception and didn’t receive a response. The 13-year-old’s family reported her rape to the police and last year, police made an arrest in her case—and she still wasn’t able to receive an abortion. 

According to experts speaking to ABC, even if the child’s family had known that they could seek abortion care under the law’s rape exception, it’s unlikely they would have found a health care provider willing to offer the abortion in the state due to legal risks. Many abortion providers have left the state since the ban took effect. “If I couldn’t figure out how to get a rape exception, how could this girl and her family?” Time’s Charlotte Alter wrote in her report last year. In January 2023, the New York Times reported only two exceptions have been made in Mississippi since its ban took effect.

“Most people wouldn’t do it [provide abortion] here in the state. They would refer you out,” Dr. Erica Balthrop, the OBGYN who helped the 13-year-old girl, told ABC. Alina Salganicoff, senior vice president and director of Women’s Health Policy at Kaiser Family Foundation, told the outlet that abortion bans have created “a lot of confusion and misinformation about abortion across the country,” with many people left unaware of their options within their own states or to access abortion out-of-state. And health care providers are too afraid to help them: “Physicians have so much at stake in terms of losing their medical license, financial penalties, and, in some cases, criminalization leading to jail time. So it is very concerning for them to take the risk of performing an abortion unless they are absolutely certain that they won’t be penalized for this.”

In February, researchers estimated that in the 14 states that have banned abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roe, an estimated 519,981 rapes “were associated with 64,565 pregnancies.” (These estimates drew from available data that track rates of reported and unreported rapes in states with abortion bans, as well as “findings from prior research on rape-related pregnancy rates.”) Of these 64,565 rape-induced pregnancies, “an estimated 5,586 rape-related pregnancies (9%) occurred in states with rape exceptions,” and “58,979 (91%) in states with no exception,” with 26,313 (45%) in Texas. But as Mississippi’s abortion data shows, a state law having a rape exception clearly doesn’t guarantee rape victims will be able to access care. In January, Center for Reproductive Rights attorney Linda Goldstein told Jezebel that exceptions attached to abortion bans “don’t work—that’s really the bottomline,” calling exceptions “window-dressing to make abortion bans look reasonable.”

As ABC News’ reporting highlights, the Mississippi child’s family is still processing their child’s rape, all while trying to raise a baby living in one of the poorest counties in the state. Last summer, her mother recounted being treated dismissively by the local police department before an arrest was eventually made. Initially, when the child’s pregnancy was first discovered at the emergency room, her mother told Time that a nurse asked the girl, “What have you been doing?” implying the pregnancy was her fault. 

“He took my child’s innocence,” the girl’s mother told ABC of her child’s rapist. “She didn’t have to go through this. It’s not her time to go through this.”

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