Girl, 12, holding her baby instead of teddy bear

MICHAEL OLESKER

June 30, 1992|By MICHAEL OLESKER

In the hours just before yesterday's U.S. Supreme Court vote on abortion, she remembered the 12-year-old girl and the pink teddy bear and the father with his baseball cap turned backward.

And she thought, after all of the years of medical school, and all of the hours of obstetrical training and the joy of bringing life into the world, of the abortion that should have been.

In Washington, the nine justices spoke yesterday in the meticulous language of the law, which will now reach into the hectic emergency rooms and the clinics and the messy existence of ordinary human beings whose lives sometimes take terrible and unexpected turns.

The high court said states may not outlaw all abortions, but the justices also opened the door to new restrictions to make it more difficult to get a legal abortion. With new challenges confronting the court next term, the shadow of the past, of vacant rooms and frantic women with nowhere to turn, looms out of America's dark ages.

In East Baltimore, the doctor remembered the 12-year-old girl's baby face and pregnant body. She remembered thinking the contrast created a kind of obscenity. The 12-year-old girl arrived late at night, a few hours from delivery. She had no adults with her, only a boy in an Orioles jacket and baseball cap, who looked 9 years old. In fact, he was 12. And he was the father.

Laws are guidelines for conduct, which do not necessarily connect with the reality of human lives. Anti-abortion demonstrators hold up photos of fetuses and talk of murder. Abortion-rights demonstrators talk of the need to protect the already-born at the expense of the not-yet-born.

In East Baltimore, the doctor remembered the girl and said, "I bet none of those anti-abortion demonstrators has had an abortion, or known of anybody who needed one, or seen a 12-year-old in labor."

The implication was clear: It is the distinction between the neat, orderly world of philosophical ideals, and the real world in which people find themselves drowning.

In Washington, within minutes of yesterday's Supreme Court vote, Randall Terry, founder of the fiercely anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, stood outside the court and declared, "Today the three Reagan-Bush appointees [to the court] have stabbed the pro-life movement in the back and affirmed the bloodshed."

But moments later, Kelly Conlon, of the National Abortion Rights Action League, called the decision a big blow against abortions and said it has "thrown women into the shark tank of American politics."

In Maryland, it will come to a referendum in November, where residents will vote on whether to keep abortions legal here. The vote apparently would make the Supreme Court ruling a moot point. In February, a Sun poll showed 57 percent would keep most abortions here legal, no matter what the Supreme Court might decide, while only 31 percent would outlaw most abortions.

But nobody takes anything for granted. Within hours of yesterday's high court decision, there were plans for an abortion rights rally, noon today at Hopkins Plaza, with Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke expected to be there.

But, while the political struggle was taking a new turn, the doctor in East Baltimore remembered the two 12-year-olds. They showed up at Francis Scott Key Medical Center's emergency room late that night looking like children playing grown-ups. They seemed impossibly young.

"The little girl was terrified," the doctor said. "The boy, who seemed to come up to her chin, looked very scared and very concerned. How many 12-year-old boys have been in labor and delivery?"

Perhaps more than we suspect. The government says about 1.5 million abortions are performed in the U.S. each year, including about 500,000 on teen-agers. About one of every four American women chooses to end her pregnancy.

"I remember that 12-year-old girl," the doctor said, "and I always think of that teddy bear she was carrying. You know, delivering babies is usually real nice. People are happy. But I remember thinking, 'This is not what this little girl should be doing with her life. She should be going to junior high school.' "

The easy response is: She shouldn't have been having sex in the first place. Of course, of course. But it's the simplistic answer, too. Life is more complex, and we do ourselves no justice by announcing should-have-beens.

While the court did not overturn Roe vs. Wade, it did: require approval for minors of a parent or a judge; require doctors to lecture women about fetal developments and alternatives to abortion; require detailed reports by doctors to the government about each abortion performed.

"Is abortion murder?" the doctor wondered aloud now. "My sense is that the fetus is not aware of it. Maybe the way a flower turns to the sun or roots go to water, a fetus will respond. But I don't think it's pain.

"The pain is for the living. I think of that 12-year old girl now, and my vision of her is a little girl clutching her baby, when she should be clutching that pink teddy bear."

In the wake of yesterday's Supreme Court ruling, a question hangs in the air: How many times will the story of that 12-year-old girl be repeated in the years to come?

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