Activist tale of a 10-year-old rape victim’s abortion looks like a lie
“Not a whisper.” That was Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, saying that his search for a notorious child rape case in his state had turned up nothing.
That is odd given the vast coverage by the media, and even condemnation of the president of the United States, of the supposed case of a 10-year-old girl raped and impregnated in Ohio and forced to seek an abortion in Indiana.
What is even stranger than the utter lack of confirmation of the story is the utter lack of interest in confirming it — or in the welfare of the child herself. We have little proof that the story is true despite some significant legal and factual questions.
The story of the child rape united the nation in revulsion, but also became the rallying point for the denunciation of the Supreme Court, including in comments by President Biden. In his White House address, Biden cried that this child “was forced to have to travel out of the state to Indiana to seek to terminate the pregnancy and maybe save her life. Ten years old — 10 years old! — raped, six weeks pregnant, already traumatized, was forced to travel to another state.”
The president used the story to attack the Supreme Court and ask, “What century are they in?”
The media also exhaustively covered the story. It was written up everywhere from Israel to Bangladesh. On MSNBC, Joy Reid declared, “It is hard to imagine anything more cruel, more disturbing than forcing a child, a 10-year-old still playing with fidget toys and tablets, to carry her father or her brother’s child to term or forcing her to travel across state lines for an abortion. And yet, here we are.”
But are we?
The story remains based entirely on an account from Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Indianapolis. Indianapolis Star reporter Shari Rudavsky reported, “On Monday three days after the Supreme Court issued its groundbreaking decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, [Bernard], an Indianapolis obstetrician-gynecologist, took a call from a colleague, a child abuse doctor in Ohio.”
Bernard told her that immediately after “the Buckeye State had outlawed any abortion after six weeks, [she] had a 10-year-old patient in the office who was six weeks and three days pregnant.” She then explained how Bernard performed the abortion.
When the story ran, some of us noted that the Ohio law actually does not prohibit abortions after six weeks but after “fetal heartbeat has been detected.” Being three days over the six-week line is not a bar on abortion. More importantly, it also has the exceptions for cases like this one.
In fact, Ohio says abortions are allowed “to prevent a serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman,” which would certainly be the case for a 10-year-old.
Even Yost (who is pro-life) said that this abortion clearly fit within the exceptions and could be legally performed in Ohio.
Yost, however, was equally curious about the absence of a criminal case. Under Ohio law, any such case must be reported to police and Yost’s office would likely be involved in any DNA testing that is common in such cases. He said his staff could not find a single police report or a lab case. Indiana law also requires medical professionals like Bernard to report such cases. So both the “child abuse doctor” and Bernard were presumably under an obligation to report the rape. Neither did.
Various news organizations have tried to get Bernard to confirm a few of these basic facts, which can be addressed without revealing the name or specifics of the patient. After all, it was Bernard who went public with the story and later went on television with MSNBC to discuss the controversy and “what does it feel like on your end of that phone call?”
Even liberal newspapers like the Washington Post could not get any new information from Bernard. The Post’s “fact checker” Glenn Kessler noted in his column in the Washington Post that the Indianapolis Star story did not meet basic journalistic standards and that reporter Rudavsky also refused to answer basic questions. Kessler noted that “the only source cited for the anecdote was Bernard. She’s on the record, but there is no indication that the newspaper made other attempts to confirm her account.”
If this story is true, there is a child rapist who is still at large. Alternatively, if this was a family member, a child may be living in the same house as her rapist.
There have been a number of false or inaccurate claims made about abortion law and the Dobbs decision, including false claims that women can be prevented from traveling for medical care or that ectopic pregnancy treatments are now barred as abortion in some states. These false accounts can be a dangerous form of disinformation if women believe that they cannot receive treatment for legal procedures.
Moreover, given the possible risk to this and other children from this rapist, the president and these media outlets should be calling for confirmation and an intervention in this story.
The only thing that is “harder to imagine” than such a denial of medical services for this child would be the decision to let her fend for herself or just return to the same dangerous conditions.
Whether this is a case of criminal victimization or political exploitation, we should all be motivated to find out the truth.
Jonathan Turley is an attorney and professor at George Washington University Law School.