Kaitlyn Thompson’s face was determined. Traces of yellowy-brown bruises color her jaw like faded watercolors. Her dark blue eyes are bloodshot, eyelids puffy and pink, thick lashes moist with fresh tears. She had promised herself before this appointment she wouldn’t cry. She was tired of tears. They didn’t change what had happened, or make her feel any better, only more tired and drained. But when the doctor, a fine-boned black woman with fashionable glasses and long, intricately braided hair, announced, “You’re pregnant,” the tears came anyway. “It…I…hic…won’t have it,” Kaitlyn hiccoughed.
Dr. Angela Seymour handed her patient a Kleenex. “You’re probably aware of the current laws,” she said, then stopped herself. Her mind raced with all the things she’d like to say to this seventeen year old. Like, she was sorry this had happened. Did she have anyone to talk to? Or, what would you like to do now? She forgot sometimes that that kind of caring was a thing of the past.
When the high courts had pronounced all abortions illegal sixteen months ago, the clever wordsmiths who’d penned the law declared a life saving coup for those who couldn’t yet speak for themselves. In the aftermath, women’s clinics shut down and in-home pregnancy tests disappeared from drugstore shelves. At the same time, adoption agencies and orphanages sprang up like Starbucks coffee stores.
For Dr. Seymour, the law acted as an invisible gag. Horrified and mute, she’d watched more than one well-respected colleague lose their license or be sent swiftly to prison for “performing more than their lawful scope of care.” And that’s what keeps me in line, Dr. Seymour thought, gazing at the tastefully framed medical school diploma on the wall above her desk. She’d be paying off student loans for the next several years. Impossible to do that from a prison cell. She rubbed her suddenly throbbing temples. “Look,” Dr. Seymour took a deep breath, “we should talk about how you can take care of yourself and this baby. There’s nutrition to think about and,”
“No thank you.” Kaitlyn sniffled then blew her nose loudly.
“I have some vitamins you should take,” Dr. Seymour continued. She stared at the chart in front of her, not seeing the words, tapping her pen against the paper. Rules are rules, she thought. God, this is wrong.
“Didn’t you hear me? I said,”
“I think you know I can only talk about certain options,”
“I said I’m not going to have it.” Kaitlyn interrupted, jaw muscles twitching.
“I heard you.” Every instinct in Dr. Seymour wanted to let Kaitlyn know she was on her side. “I agree with you,” she wanted to say. “Here, let me help you.” But the words she spoke disappointed both of them. “They’ll take away my license if I do anything… like that. You know that don’t you? They’ll lock me up…” Dr. Seymour’s voice trailed off.
The women stared at each other. They had reached an impasse.
“What would you do in my place?” Kaitlyn finally asked.
Dr. Seymour looked at the tall, athletic young woman. She’d seen the news. The face of Kaitlyn’s perpetrator had filled TV screens and front page newspaper headlines for days after the brutal rape. “Probably the same thing you want to do,” she admitted quietly, “but,”
“Can you help me?” Kaitlyn’s whisper was husky, barely audible.
Dr. Seymour averted her eyes from the raw, hopeful desperation on Kaitlyn’s face. Her mind traveled down a hundred different paths in an instant. But she couldn’t see a way to help. Not what Kaitlyn was asking. She couldn’t risk it.
Kaitlyn recognized the doctor’s answer in the slump of the other woman’s shoulders and the resigned line of her frown. She dressed while Dr. Seymour sat, immobile at her desk.
Neither spoke. There was nothing to say.