Heartless Florida punishes pregnant kids, even when raped

The crime is so repugnant, it’s no wonder Republican legislators chose to disregard child rape when they concocted Florida’s new abortion law.

They can pretend otherwise, but it happens. Thousands of young girls, some still in elementary school, are raped each year. A Justice Department study found that 15% of American rape and sexual abuse victims were age 12 or younger.

Victims then discover too often that they are pregnant. Rapists have wrecked their young lives twice over.

The Republicans’ new abortion law, which took effect July 1, pretends otherwise. The legislation outlaws abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy, with exceptions for serious medical conditions but none for incest or rape — even the rape of a child.

Florida has apparently decided to hold pregnant children accountable if they fail to seek medical intervention within 15 weeks of an assault. The state has no sympathy for juvenile victims afraid to seek help, providing a child even fathoms her predicament if, say, she lives in the same house as her rapist. Ninety percent of child rapists are related to or acquainted with their victims.

Florida legislators have no excuse.

Before voting on this barbaric bill, Dr. Samantha Deans told a Senate committee about an 11-year-old Florida patient, raped by a relative, whose pregnancy wasn’t apparent until the 23rd week.

The rush to impose harsh abortion limits was hardly a reaction to public demand. A University of North Florida poll in February found 57% of Floridians opposed the 15-week limit. A national poll conducted in April for ABC News and The Washington Post found that 79% of Americans wanted exceptions for rape or incest.

But Republican lawmakers are catering to an all-powerful Christian right in Florida and 14 other states that enacted new abortion restrictions without consideration for rape or incest victims. Yet, conservatives feigned disbelief earlier this month when an Indiana physician told reporters she had performed an abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim. The child’s parents had driven her to Indiana for an abortion last month because her home state of Ohio had just enacted a “fetal heartbeat” law that all but banned abortions — with no exceptions for rape or incest.

The right wing reaction was terrific with Fox News, The Wall Street Journal editorial page (“a fanciful tale”), the National Review (“a fictive abortion and a fictive rape”) and Republican politicians denouncing the story as a hoax. The feigned outrage ended July 13 when the Columbus Dispatch reported on court proceedings where a local man had been arraigned after admitting that he had raped the 10-year-old.

Indeed, child rape happens. Often with harrowing consequences.

In 1993, South Florida was shocked after a 12-year-old was arrested for armed robbery, his 57th arrest. The media called him “Crime Boy.”

I visited the kid’s grandmother in the bleaker unincorporated reaches of Fort Lauderdale where she was raising him in depressing circumstances that had been predestined by child rape. The grandmother, Gladys Jackson, had been raped and impregnated at 11. That resulting child, a daughter, was similarly raped at age 11. That baby became, almost inevitably, Crime Boy.

“We were babies raising babies,” Jackson told me.

Her family might have been a case study in the developmental and behavioral issues that disproportionately plague children born to juvenile mothers. An Urban Institute study found that sons born to teenage mothers are three times more likely to serve time in prison. It probably didn’t occur to the study’s authors to ask about the sons of 11-year-old mothers.

Gladys Jackson had served time. Crime Boy’s 24-year-old mother was serving a life sentence for smuggling a gun to her imprisoned lover, who killed a guard as he escaped a Georgia penitentiary.

Crime Boy’s Aunt Lisa was jailed for armed robbery. His Uncle George, 16 at the time, had taken the kid along with him when he robbed a convenience store and shot the clerk. Think of Crime Boy’s dismal upbringing as a cautionary tale for modern-day Republican politicians who talk as if it’s a righteous act to force impoverished young women and girls — the demographic who’ll suffer the brunt of these new abortion limits — to birth unwanted babies.

Of course, conservative politicians offer vague promises about providing government support for the women and girls they’ve forced into motherhood.

Fat chance in Florida, one of just 12 Republican states that refuses to expand Medicaid coverage, keeping crucial services from low-income single parents. I doubt a state that has long scrimped on children’s social services will find extra dollars to spend on child rape victims.

Or their unwanted babies.

Fred Grimm is a Sun Sentinel columnist.