TAMMY is 18, blue-eyed and blond. She lives in an apartment building inhabited mostly by elderly women who treat her like a favorite grandchild. "I wonder what they'd say," Tammy asks, "if they knew I was a junkie and a whore."
Every night Tammy hitchhikes or takes a taxi downtown, where she stands on a street corner trying to look attractive to men. A year ago she had more customers than she could handle. Today she's eight months pregnant and her pregnancy is hurting business. "It didn't show too much until last month," she says, "except that my breasts stood out more, and that actually helped, you know? Now I just look fat, and that turns guys off."
Tammy is also forced to confine herself to oral sex, which cuts into her income even more. "I used to be able to get enough money to get high from the first trick, then use the money from the second one to get a room at a motel, and use the rest of what I made to live on. Now I have to rent rooms from people in the projects by the hour, or just go with guys in their cars. Instead of three or four tricks a night, I have to do six or eight. Sometimes more."
Why, given the life she leads, didn't Tammy have an abortion? "I wanted to have an abortion, but every clinic I talked to wanted cash up front. They also wanted to talk to my parents, and I didn't want that to happen. They think I go to college and wait tables part-time. They don't know what I do for a living. They don't know I take drugs."
Tammy comes from a small town in Pennsylvania. Her father is a fundamentalist minister. He and her mother are anti-abortion activists. Tammy says there is no way they would have allowed her to have an abortion. They would have forced her to return home if they found out about her lifestyle. And Tammy didn't turn 18 until almost six months after she discovered she was pregnant. By then it was too late to do anything but go ahead and have the baby.
If you say Tammy's problems are caused by her drug use and sexual habits, you're right. But she is what she is, despite having been raised in a household where the Bible was read on a daily basis. You can't go back in time and make her into a clean-living high school cheerleader again. You have to look at her as she is today, with her matted hair and sallow complexion still showing traces of yesterday's makeup. And you have to wonder what kind of life her baby faces.
Tammy doesn't care about the baby. She hasn't had any prenatal care because she's afraid the doctors would force her to go through heroin withdrawal. She doesn't know if she has AIDS or is HIV-positive, and she doesn't want to find out any sooner than she has to. "When I go into the hospital to have the baby," she says, "I'll give them a fake name, and when I'm in labor I'll scream until they give me something to knock me out. As soon as I wake up and can walk, I'll leave. They can keep the baby. I don't want it. What kind of mother do you think I'd be, anyway?"
The answer to that question is obvious. There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of girls like Tammy out there. The pro-life activists who demand parental notification schemes for underage girls never see them. I drive a cab at night. I see them far too often.
Tammy scares me more than most because she looks like a grown-up version of Nadine, my 7-year-old daughter, who I hope and pray never ends up selling her body to feed a drug habit. But if she does, and becomes pregnant, I hope and pray she is able to obtain an abortion without worrying about facing me and my wrath.
Given a choice between giving up a bit of control over Nadine's destiny and bringing another doomed child into a life of misery, I'd rather give up a bit of control. There is enough misery in this world already. I won't be responsible for adding any more.
Robin Miller drives a taxi and lives in Baltimore.