I was young and living in the Bay Area, age 23. I was trying to find my way in the world, professionally. I loved to write, cared passionately about social justice, but wasn’t sure how I was going to make a living. And so I had taken a variety of internships and volunteer jobs to try on different careers. One dream I had had at the time was of one day being a counselor, helping others with their pain. And so I took an opportunity to volunteer at Planned Parenthood, as a pregnancy counselor.
Nearly 27 years later, much of my time there is a bit of a blur. But one client I remember vividly. I remember her face — the face of a young girl, about 13. I remember her grandmother’s face — the face of someone who had seen more than her share of hard knocks. I remember how she cast her eyes down as she walked into the room with her grandmother, how she wouldn’t make eye contact with me. I remember how they both waited in another room while I ran the pregnancy test. I remember sadly watching the band turn the familiar turquoise blue before my eyes. I remember returning to the room, and beginning to utter the words, as we always did with a pregnancy: “You are pregnant, and you have three choices…”
But the grandmother was adamant: the girl was going to have an abortion, and that that was that.
I had never been in a situation like this: A woman much older than me and a young girl, about a decade my junior, in the same room, with the older woman doing all of the talking.
And so I asked the grandmother to leave.
It was then that I coaxed the information out of the girl. I asked the girl if she knew who the father was. Yes, she nodded. I asked her if she wanted to keep the baby. No, she shook her head, tears welling up in her eyes. And so I asked her why. “The father is my father,” she said, looking me in the eye for the first time, terror in her eyes.
After she left, I thought of how few options that girl had. She couldn’t drive. She couldn’t have known much about birth control. She probably couldn’t have had any say with her father. Her mother was either dead or had disappeared. The grandmother may have known about the abuse and allowed it to continue. I didn’t know. Nor did I know if the grandmother knew that the perpetrator was her son. I feared for the girl’s safety. Later, I filed the necessary paperwork to report possible incest.
It is one reason among many why I remain an avid supporter of choice. For many girls like this, there are no options but Planned Parenthood, no options but abortion. There are few places where they can feel safe enough to discuss their needs, needs and rights which they have been taught at a young age to are not as important as a man’s.
I wonder about that girl, who would now be about 40. How did she ever recover from that trauma? Did she get placed in foster care? Was her father incarcerated? I don’t know. I do know she did the right thing.