The Denial of Mental Illness is Alive and Well

Earlier this week, I had dinner with a recently retired lawyer who has spent the past 40-odd years working to protect the rights of people with mental illness. She shared with me an anecdote that, she said, had set the course of her entire career:

One day in the summer of 1970, she was working at a St. Louis legal clinic on her law school break, when a 17-year-old girl walked in with her boyfriend. The boyfriend was black. The girl was white — and pregnant. The couple wanted to stay together and raise their baby. The girls’ parents were hell-bent on splitting them apart — and on making sure that they wouldn’t have a mixed-race grandchild. And so, they were having the teenager committed to a mental hospital where they could force her to have an abortion. “There was nothing we could do,” the lawyer told me. “There were no laws we could use to protect her.”

This article was originally published in TIME.