Rape victim who had illegal abortion at age 13 calls Alabama's law 'an abomination'

Andrew J. Yawn

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Maralyn Mosley remembers life in Alabama before abortion was legal.

Twenty-two years before the passage of Roe v. Wade, Mosley had her first illegal abortion at the age of 13 after being raped by a tenant at her aunt’s Birmingham boarding house. Mosley's mother made the decision to take her to a woman the community went to for clandestine terminations of pregnancy. Mosley was turned away because of her age.

That’s how, in 1951, a young Mosley found herself being taken through a nondescript door in an alley. There she got an abortion in the back of a barbershop from a man who asked for sex before he would do the procedure.

"I had been raped, and this made me feel like I was useless, like I was violated," Mosley said.

Mosley said she doesn't remember much of the procedure itself, that she blocked out the memory because it was too painful. She said she clearly remembers her second illegal abortion, one she performed on herself seven years later with knitting needles.

More: I was 12 years old and pregnant. Alabama's abortion ban bill would punish girls like me.

A protest is held against HB314, the abortion ban bill, at the Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery, Ala., on Wednesday April 17, 2019.

In 1991, Mosley spoke at the Alabama Statehouse, sharing her story as a warning to the Senate panel, which was mulling abortion restrictions at the time. Mosley wanted them to know that abortions would happen anyway and what would happen if legal access was lost.

"You go for help and instead of receiving it, you are violated again. And you didn't know who was going to be the person performing the abortion," Mosley said. 

On Wednesday, Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law a bill that would effectively ban and criminalize performing abortions in Alabama, a piece of legislation supporting lawmakers who hope it will be challenged to the U.S. Supreme Court where a conservative majority could overturn Roe v. Wade. 

More: Where is abortion legal? Everywhere. But ...

More: After Alabama OKs strictest abortion law in nation, Missouri could be next

The bill provided no exceptions for victims of incest or rape. Now 81 years old and living in Birmingham, Mosley said she was "extremely saddened" to see the passage of a bill that would not have protected her 13-year-old self, a bill that might force women to take similarly drastic, dangerous and illegal measures to seek an abortion.

“We’re going to return to the back alleys. We’re going to return to where women will do abortions to themselves. We will return to the coat hangers and perforated uteruses. We will return to where women will bleed to death. It will be as it was before,” she said.

"It's an abomination."

Approximately 6,700 abortions were performed in Alabama in 2017, the latest annual statistics provided by the Alabama Department of Public Health. That number stayed relatively constant for each of the five years prior, with fluctuations as low as 5,800 in 2015 and as high as 9,000 in 2012.

At minimum, the law will not go into effect for at least six months and implementation could be delayed further by expected legal challenges.

More: Televangelist Pat Robertson: Alabama abortion law 'has gone too far,' is 'ill-considered'

If implemented, women would not face charges for having an abortion but any doctor that performs one could face 10 to 99 years in prison. 

A glimpse into that future can be found in Montgomery Advertiser archives. A 1965 Associated Press brief tells of two Florida doctors being held on bond. A 1977 AP story tells of one Texas woman dying and four others being hospitalized after seeking illegal abortions due to the elimination of Medicaid funding for the procedure at medical centers. 

"Abortions cannot be made illegal again. Women, girls and children should not have to go through that," Mosley said. "I feel my terrible experience and other women's terrible experiences can be repeated, that we will have more deaths. No one talks about the deaths that occurred from illegal abortions, but there were many."

Studies back up the notion that illegal abortions are more dangerous than those performed in a professional environment.

After the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973, both illegal abortions and injuries/deaths from the procedures were "markedly down," according to a 1975 AP article citing results from a National Academy of Sciences report.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention abortion survey focusing on data from 1972-74 found that illegal terminations of pregnancies resulted in death eight times more often than legal abortions and that the number of deaths and injuries declined significantly after the passage of Roe.

Mosley said she has no regrets about decisions she and her family made to terminate pregnancies. She's had three sons, and has six grandchildren and two great grandchildren. She went from being a housemaid to owning her own housecleaning business. Prior to moving back to Alabama, she worked to get women into previously male-dominated fields as supervisor of skills training at the Westchester County Women's Center. A 1977 New York Times article described her as a "mover and shaker in the Westchester Black Women's Political Caucus."

"I don’t think that, if I had tried to take care of a baby at the age of 13, that I would be able to achieve any of the things I’ve been able to achieve," Mosley said.

More: 25 men voted to ban abortion in Alabama. Do they reflect the rest of America?

Sometime after the passage of Roe, Mosley had a third, legal abortion. But this one, she said was safer, cleaner and performed by a doctor.

To Mosley, the Senate's passage of the abortion ban represents a monumental step back to a time when women had fewer rights.

That's why, as she spoke about the passage of the bill, she couldn't help but feel anger. 

"I listened to what has been described about the new bill passed by the Alabama State Legislature, and they’re saying the woman will have to carry the rapist’s child to term," she said. "My question is, if your daughter or your niece or sister or cousin is a pre-teen … or like me she was 13, you’re going to say to her that you’re going to make her carry this baby to term. Why?

"I think it is punishing the woman for being a woman."

Follow Andrew Yawn on Twitter: @yawn_meister

This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: Rape victim who had illegal abortion at age 13 calls Alabama's law 'an abomination'