As part of the debate over abortion rights, the discussion often leads to hypothetical nightmares. What would Republican opponents of reproductive rights do, for example, about a theoretical tragedy involving a 13-year-old impregnated by a rapist? What would the right say about a 12-year-old who’d been raped by a relative?
Two weeks ago, however, an Indianapolis Star report took the conversation in a different direction, shining a light not on a hypothetical nightmare but on one that was apparently all too real: Three days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Indiana received a call from a colleague in Ohio, where an abortion ban had just kicked in.
According to the Star’s report, written by a credible, veteran journalist, the child abuse physician in Ohio had a 10-year-old patient in the office who was six weeks and three days pregnant, and the doctor hoped the girl could circumvent the abortion ban in the Buckeye State and have the pregnancy terminated in neighboring Indiana, before its Republican policymakers imposed an abortion ban of their own.
By any fair measure, it was a gut-wrenching story, and a week after the Star’s article was published, the Biden White House was using it as an example of why abortion rights needed to be protected.
Soon after, Republicans and conservative media outlets started expressing skepticism about the version of events, and in some circles, that skepticism quickly turned to a wholesale rejection of the story’s accuracy. It was against this backdrop that there was an arrest in the case. NBC News reported:
A 27-year-old man has been charged in the sexual assault of a 10-year-old girl who reportedly traveled from Ohio to Indiana for an abortion in a case that drew international attention — and scrutiny — in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Gershon Fuentes, who was arrested Tuesday, confessed to raping the child, according to documents filed in Franklin County, Ohio, Municipal Court.
The revelations first came to light in reporting from The Columbus Dispatch. (In fact, the Dispatch’s Bethany Bruner was the only reporter in the courtroom yesterday morning as the suspect was arraigned.)
What matters most in a situation like this is the people involved, and based on the latest reporting, it appears the girl received the medical treatment she needed and the man who attacked her will be held accountable.
But there’s also an unmistakable political dimension to this.
This week, for example, Dave Yost, Ohio’s Republican attorney general, appeared on Fox News and cast doubt on the story. The claims were a likely “fabrication,” Yost said before condemning the Indianapolis Star for publishing its report.
He had plenty of company. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said the story was probably “fake.” The South Dakota Republican went on to call it “literal fake news.” In a since-deleted tweet, Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio described the allegations as a “lie.”
Conservative media outlets like Fox News, The Washington Times and the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal followed suit, telling conservatives the story “was not true,” “a huge lie” and a “fanciful tale.”
And then the suspected rapist was arrested.
The larger point is not to mock those who assumed the story was illegitimate. Rather, what I hope will happen now is that the Republicans and their allies who dismissed this story will consider anew the underlying policy question: In the United States, should the government force raped children to take their pregnancies to term against their wishes?
Ten days ago, GOP policymakers such as Noem suggested the answer should be yes. Do other Republicans agree? Do American voters weighing their 2022 choices agree?