It was a simple story, only three paragraphs long, and the grotesque news was flattened by restrained wire service prose.
From Kalamazoo, Mich., came the report that the county prosecutor's office had brought charges of neglect against a mother. But this was not just another miserable entry into the log of everyday life. The baby, the alleged victim of emotional neglect was four months old. The mother, the alleged perpetrator of emotional neglect, was 12 years old.
Now does this begin to ring a bell, strike a chord? If not, let me -- straight forwardly, I promise -- refresh your memory.
A year ago, in May of 1981, this little girl was 11 and pregnant. She had been raped repeatedly by the man who lived with her, her mother and sister. She didn't tell anyone about the pregnency (perhaps she didn't know) until the and of July.
Finally she called the police and told a detective there that she didn't want to have a baby. She was, after all, just going into the fifth grade -- too young to be hired as a babysitter.
The girl's mother -- who would herself soon be charged with, of course, emotional neglect -- did not approve of abortion. The girl's father, an ex-convict who lost a custody battle for his daughters, wanted her to have an abortion. The pregnant girl reportedly vacillated between parents and principles. At 11, she was unable to make a mature decision about her body, life, future, fetus.
So the case went to court, to the court of Judge Donald Halstead. This is the judge who had signed a full-page Mother's Day ad in the newspaper written by an anti-abortion group.
These are, as I promised, the facts:
It took Halstead three weeks to make the girl a ward of court. It took him another month to rule that he wouldn't rule. He said that he didn't have the authority to order an abortion.
By now, if you are counting, it was late September. The girl was over four months pregnant. No abortions are performed in Michigan beyond 24 weeks. But the case went next to a circuit court and finally to a federal court. It was the federal judge who in late October, ordered Halstead to decide. So he did.
The girl was now 23 weeks pregnant. The man who had delayed judgment proclaimed that she was too far along to have an abortion: "The medical risks attendant to an abortion pose serious medical concerns offsetting the wisdom of allowing the minor child to have the baby."
Did I deliver these facts coolly enough?
Of course, there were opinions, too. Barb Listing, the president of Right to Life of Michigan told the press back in the fall, "This ruling spares the young mother from the psychological trauma which would result from an abortion."
It has not been reported where this Ms. Listing was during the delivery on Feb. 6.
We don't know much about what happened to these people next. We know that the rapist is in jail. We know that the young mother and her infant were in foster care together until April. We know that they are now in separate foster homes.
And now we know that this girl is going back to court. There is "probable cause" for emotional neglect proceedings against her. Within the next month there will be a hearing to decide whether to permanently remove the baby from the custody of the mother.
Will the 12-year-old be found guilty of emotional neglect? Can a 12-year-old be guilty of not mothering? And can a 12-year-old mother? Am I getting too emotional? After all, this is the story of the girl who was "saved from the emotional trauma of abortion."
I have told this story not because I think it will change anyone's mind. I have heard all the rejoinders of the anti-abortion advocates: the sad saga of an 11-year-old doesn't justify the killing of the unborn; the baby may grow up to be Beethoven.
I have told it rather because this month a group of anti-abortion zealots tracked down another 11-year-old who had a scheduled abortion. They hounded the girl and her mother, yelling from balconies near their apartments and picketing the path to the hospital.
I have told it because some of the "right to lifers" consider the Kalamazoo story a victory. They consider the case closed, over, finished, when it has just been born.
I have told it finally because they have a right to know. Wait. Scratch that careful wording. They have the obligation to know.