The case of a 10-year-old girl who had to travel from her home in Ohio to Indiana to receive an abortion after being raped has become national news—and a major political issue following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe V. Wade.
The child, then nearly six-and-a-half weeks pregnant, could not legally receive an abortion in Ohio due to the state’s “fetal heartbeat” law, which went into effect after the Court abolished the constitutional right to an abortion. The doctor called Dr. Caitlin Bern, an Indianapolis physician who consented to the operation. Bernard made the Indianapolis story public in The Indianapolis Post Star.
Both sides have been harsh in their responses to the abortion debate. For advocates of abortion rights—including President Biden—the girl was an example of how new abortion restrictions were already harming the most vulnerable people.
However, abortion opponents now have an even bigger problem. Jim Bopp is an Indiana lawyer who serves as general counsel to the National Right to Life. He believes that the girl should have been allowed to carry the baby to term.
“She would have had the baby, and as many women who have had babies as a result of rape, we would hope that she would understand the reason and ultimately the benefit of having the child,” Bopp told Politico on Thursday. “We don’t think, as heart-wrenching as those circumstances are, we don’t think we should devalue the life of the baby because of the sins of the father.”
Here’s what to know about the case:
How can we learn more about this case?
The Columbus Police Department was informed about the child’s pregnancy on June 22, after the Franklin County’s Children Services agency filed a complaint, NPR reports.
Gerson Fuentes (27), confessed that he raped the girl at least two times. Officers arrested him. On a bond of $2 million, he is being held in Franklin County Jail. Detectives investigating the case collected Fuentes’ DNA to confirm his paternity, and he faces a potential life sentence if found guilty.
What made it national news?
The case was brought to national attention after Biden delivered impassioned remarks while signing an executive order to better protect access to abortion in response to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on July 8.
Biden called the Supreme Court’s decision “extreme.” Since Roe has been overturned, four states have banned abortion, with no exceptions for rape or incest, unless the mother’s life is at risk. “This isn’t some imagined horror,” Biden said. “It’s already happening. It was just reported last week that a 10-year old girl had been raped. And she was forced to have to travel outside the state to Indiana to seek to terminate the pregnancy.”
Biden’s executive order asked federal agencies to find policies that would allow FDA-approved medication for abortion to remain accessible. This executive order also sought to safeguard patient privacy in the provision of reproductive medical services.
Many conservative politicians and media outlets including Wall Street, include the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, reacted to Biden’s speech by casting doubt that the 10-year-old girl’s case even existed. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost on FOX News stated that there was not a “whisper anywhere” of the 10-year-old rape victim.
Columbus police made the announcement that a suspect had been arrested.
What are the reactions of officials?
Indiana’s current law allows for an abortion up to 22 weeks of pregnancy, but that is likely to change following the state’s special legislative session on July 25. The General Assembly has both a conservative chamber and Republican-led leaders promise to tighten abortion restrictions. Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb called the 10-year-old’s case a “horrific example,” he did not specify the type of restrictions residents can expect.
Dr. Meera Shah, the Medical Director of Whole Women’s Health Alliance in South Bend, Ind., expects abortion to be outlawed entirely in the Hoosier state, and says that even exceptions like rape or incest do not protect victims. “These laws require that [patients] disclose or have some recognition of what they’ve experienced on a very specific timeline in order to get care,” Shah says. “That requires the patient to disclose that they were raped or experienced incest. And for those of us that have worked with survivors of trauma, survivors of sexual abuse, we know that oftentimes that trauma gets internalized and is wrapped around with shame and stigma.”
Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita declared on Fox News, July 13, that he was opening an investigation into Bernard. Rokita claimed Bernard failed to submit an abortion report within 3 days after the procedure. The state law requires that abortions performed on children under 16 years old must be reported.
It StarHowever, she has proven that the claim is false and discovered documents showing that she filed all required paperwork.
Bopp is an anti-abortion lawyer who was involved in the creation of model legislation against abortion that could be adopted by state legislators. The victim would not have been able to obtain an abortion if his model legislation had been written.
What does that mean for other victims of rape?
Across the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that nearly 3 million women have experienced rape-related pregnancy in their lifetimes, with an estimated one in nine girls under the age of 18 experiencing rape, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).
While data regarding rape-related births is scarce, a 2020 CDC Report found that 1,700 children were born to children between 10 and 14. Experts warn that the statistic is alarming.
The Commonwealth Fund has found that although maternal deaths can be prevented, the American statistics show approximately 17 deaths per 100,000 live births. This compares to 8.6 deaths in Canada. “Pregnancy for most adult women can kill them,” says Michele Goodwin, author of Policing The Womb: Invisible Women, and the Criminalization Of Motherhood. “[If]This is like a baby whose organs are much more fragile and whose body was not built to handle that level of pressure for nine months. Then one can only see it as being cruel to enforce those kinds of mandates.”
Since May 9, there have been 50 police reports of rape or sexual abuse for girls aged 15 or younger in Columbus, Ohio, alone—though experts say confidentiality laws mean some reports may not be included in that figure. Experts point out, however that many sexual assaults are not reported. According to the Ohio Department of Health, 52 abortions occurred in Ohio in 2020 among children 15 and younger. This is a decrease from the 63 recorded in 2019.
Abortion rates among teens are much higher than that of adults. 28% of teenage pregnancies end in abortion, according to estimates. Goodwin states that stricter abortion laws will have adisproportionate impact on the socioeconomically vulnerable and low-income women who are from communities like Alabama. Alabama has one of the most stringent abortion policies as well the highest rates of teen births.
Experts expect a rise in teenage birth rates. Goodwin refers to the teenage girls forced to travel abroad to get abortions as refugees. “Refugees are individuals who have a very legitimate claim to try to save their lives from the tyranny that is being imposed by a government in another state where they will be harmed,” she says.
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