I find it strange that Pope Benedict XVI chose a week that will culminate in a global strike to protest violence against women to retire. And for health reasons no less. Orange smoke and irony and all that. On Thursday of this week, all over the globe, people will gather and dance for One Billion Rising, a day dedicated to striking against violence against women. As Eve Ensler, the founder of V-Day which has organized the strike knows better than most, “violence against women is a global, patriarchal epidemic.“
Part of that epidemic is compulsory pregnancy. The Pope’s rationale is that his “age means he lacks strength to do job.” You could use the exact words to describe the nine-year old girl whose family the Pope excommunicated for having a life-saving abortion after being raped and impregnated, with twins. It seems to me that her age meant she lacked strength to do the job, too. Actually, the job would have killed her. These things happen. She and 16 million other pregnant adolescent girls a year, two million of whom are under age 15, strike me as 16 million good #reasonstorise.
As does this girl: last Thursday a friend posted a story on Facebook, “Dafne, 9-Year-Old Girl, Gives Birth To Baby Girl In Mexico.” Millions read and shared it over the weekend. The link appeared with this caption: “The girl reportedly delivered a 5.7 pound baby by Caesarian section on January 27. She was 8-years old when she became pregnant.” Picky, picky feminist wordsmithy me thinks the caption should read, “The girl underwent a dangerous Caesarian surgery to delivery a 5.7 pound baby on January 27. She was 8-years old when a 17-year old boy forcibly inseminated her.” Eight-year olds cannot consent to sex. They also cannot consent to having contraceptives implanted in their arms, but that’s now happened too. Just in case she gets ideas. On the same day, by coincidence, a 12-year old in Argentina gave birth to twins after she “fell pregnant.” Like she tripped by accident.
While nine is very young, girls this age having babies is not as rare as we’d like to think. The United States has more “teen” births than any industrialized nation, including girls as young as 10, and our rates have been climbing. However, 95 percent of teen births take place in poorer countries. According to W.H.O., “Half of all adolescent births occur in just seven countries: Bangladesh, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria and the United States.” Many girls die because they do not have control over their bodies and their own reproduction.
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Last year, after a 10-year old in Columbia gave birth, experts blithely explained that “a C-section delivery for such a young mother is not unusual.” Given global trends (researchers, armed with competing theories, have noted that the average age of the onset of menstruation for girls has been steadily declining for decades) we can reasonably expect to see instances involving younger and younger girls. Little girls, and women who find themselves raped and pregnant often “want to die.” It’s only one reason why raped people shouldn’t be forced to carry pregnancies to term. Guess what else, besides the Papacy, of course, is a “job or life with no retirement age?” Whereas the Pope is retiring to “go back to his priesthood,” girls who are raped, pregnant and give birth or die cannot go back to their childhoods.
This was the conclusion reached by a doctor last year in the case a mentally-disabled girl, 10-years old, in Kansas, who had to have an abortion after becoming pregnant as a result of rape. The Kansas medical review board that revoked the girl’s doctor’s license.
In Mexico, authorities “don’t know if [the girl] is being entirely truthful.” Mainly because of her age, but interesting choice of words. Is she saying she was raped? Or is she saying she wasn’t? The article linked to doesn’t say which. Turns out she’s saying that the boy was her “boyfriend.” As one commenter speculated, the child “may have even had feelings for” her rapist. Authorities, in a perverse game of “he said/she said,” acknowledge that they are looking for the missing father, a 17-year old boy, “to acquire his own account of what occurred between the two.” In case he reveals that she was wrong in her assessment and wants to make it clear that he raped her?
Besides, it’s probably her parents fault, not his. “The new mother is one of 11 children… and her parents were unable to watch her while they worked.” It wouldn’t have mattered, as her mother explained that her daughter had sex willingly and she “didn’t report it because she was not aware” it was a crime.
“Who has 11 children, anyway?” many people wondered. This is perhaps the most important question because another way of asking it is, “Who insists on compulsory pregnancy that impoverishes millions?” Globally, historically, that has been been the Catholic Church, which continues to put girls and women at risk worldwide through bullying policies that ensure that they will be poor and unhealthy as the result of unregulated childbearing and rearing. This is the same Church that excommunicated a mother and doctors for saving a 9-year old victim’s life by when they ended her pregnancy with twins. Guess who the Church didn’t excommunicate? That’s right, her rapist stepfather.
Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, the retiring Pope of the Catholic Church, should be tried in the International Criminal Court of law for human rights abuses, not only for being head of an organization that has shielded and enabled child rapists, but for the deadly and systematic global obstruction of girls’ and women’s rights to life and health.
In the hospital where Dafne gave birth, 25 percent of the births are to teenage girls. She lived, but pregnancy is THE leading cause of death for girls ages 15 to 19 worldwide. A thoroughly unholy international alliance between American evangelicals and the Vatican has resulted in the death of millions. While President Obama quickly repealed the “global gag rule” put into place by George Bush, which prohibited even the mention of abortion where US funds were being used for women’s health care abroad, the Helms Amendment, which restricts the use of US aid for the purposes of providing abortions, even in conflict zones where rape is endemic, still stands. It is in no small measure the result of this policy and the influence of the Catholic church that 150 million women cannot get the birth control they need or safe abortions that would save their lives. We know how to stem these deaths— family planning, including both.
Meanwhile, here in the US, where Catholic Bishops and friends refuse to comply with the law and religiously-inspired Republican legislators spew venomous mythologies about rape, race, poverty, and women, the rate of maternal mortality has DOUBLED in 25 years. We now rank 50th in the world for pregnancy related morbidity. In New York City, black girls and women, are eight times more likely than white ones to die from pregnancy related causes. The girls and women dying globally often our poorest, darkest, young girls, regardless of what country they live in.
“Someone’s 10 years old, and they were raped by their uncle and they understand that they’ve got a baby growing in their stomach and they don’t want that,” explains the doctor in the Kansas case, Dr. Ann Neuhaus. Here, we don’t excommunicate people, we harass them and terrorize them, in some cases, we kill them. Have you seen The Assassination of Dr. Tiller? Abortion clinic violence wrought by anti-abortion groups is constant and debilitating to those who do this work. In what can only be described as an archaic witch hunt, Kansas revoked Neuhaus’ medical license last year. They had to take a break from praying that the Violence Against Women Act won’t pass to do it.
When these religious beliefs conspire with political ambition, it’s girls and women who pay the highest price. Consider the eight men who all voted to block passage of the Violence Against Women Act on Monday. Every woman in the Senate with the exception of Sen. Deb Fisher (R-NE) co-sponsored the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which is now being held up by concerns that largely hinge on the color of the people involved in cases of abuse and the color of the authorities with jurisdiction over them. Which is interesting, because in the case of the young girl who gave birth last week, many people think it’s a “Mexican” problem. Hmm.
“What kind of person would sleep with an 8-year old?” (No one was sleeping.) The kind that has created what Mia Fontaine recently called, “America’s Incest Problem.” Fontaine rightfully and cogently suggests how it is possible that our institutional rape tolerances have their roots in family and household rape tolerances. No one wants to model our government more on an abusive, father-knows-best, privacy of the family, patriarchal unit than conservative Republicans using proxies like “states rights” and “lying bitches.” It’s not a random coincidence that people who obstruct the reauthorization of VAWA are those who object to family planning and women’s abilities to control their own bodies and fates.
Just a little more than a month after Governor Rick Scott of Florida held a lovely party at the Governor’s Mansion celebrating the passage of four new abortion restriction laws in that state (a state dedicated to faith-based abstinence programs), a 14-year old girl stuffed a towel into her own mouth, gave birth in her bathroom, feared her parent’s reaction, strangled her newborn, hid it in a shoe box, was discovered and charged with murder as an adult. She faces life imprisonment. She apparently didn’t know she was pregnant when she went into labor. Before you laugh and think that’s impossible, one study found that in one out of every 7,225 pregnancies a woman is in this situation until the moment of birth. There are many reasons a woman might be in “pregnancy denial.”
As in Mexico, no one knows where the boy or man involved is either. He does not face murder, nor do the parents, teachers, state legislators or others who failed her. The girl may, like many kids in abstinence-only situations, not even have known how she got pregnant. Even if she did she may have taken this to heart: As one abstinence teacher put it in a Texas classroom, “Go ahead and use a condom. You’ll still be known as a slut.” If her tragic case isn’t a clear enough example of girl hatred, degradation and misogynistic abuse wrought by a system of oppression, I don’t know what is. And she’s white. And in a wealthy country.
For girls and women, the Pope represents an inconvenient morality.
This post was updated since it’s original publication.