10-year-old in Ohio forced to cross state lines for an abortion

Three days after the Supreme Court eliminated federal abortion rights, a doctor received a call about a pregnant, 10-year-old rape victim. The doctor was not permitted to perform an abortion.

July 15, 2022 by Breaking The Chains
Demonstrators marching in New York City at an abortion rights protest on June 24 (Photo: the Party for Socialism and Liberation)

Just three days after the Supreme Court eliminated the federal protection for abortion, Dr. Caitlin Bernard received a call from a colleague in Ohio who was caring for a pregnant, 10-year-old rape victim. The Ohio doctor was not permitted—according to state law—to perform a necessary abortion. The child was 6 weeks and 3 days pregnant, so the Ohio doctor reached out to Bernard, a gynecologist in Indiana, for help. The child was forced to travel for hours across state lines to get an abortion.

The right wing and their media enablers deny and diminish the truth 

The story has drawn intense national attention, but not for the reasons one might expect. While abortion rights activists pointed to a case as a clear example of how abortion restrictions prevent women and girls from accessing a necessary and often-life-saving medical procedure, the far-right with the support of the mainstream media sowed doubt about the story. After Biden referenced the case in a speech on July 8th, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost appeared on Fox News claiming that there was “not a whisper” of evidence to support the claim that a 10-year-old had been forced to cross state lines for an abortion and called the story a likely fabrication in an interview with USA Today Network Ohio bureau. The Wall Street Journal editorial page called the account of the 10-year-old’s ordeal a “fanciful tale” in an article titled “An Abortion Story Too Good To Confirm.” On July 13th, nearly two weeks after the story first broke, Gerson Fuentes confessed to raping the child, and Columbus police confirmed that the girl’s mother reported her daughter’s pregnancy to Franklin County Children Services on June 22.

Attorney General Yost has offered no apology to the girl, her family, or her doctors for denying her story. Instead of taking responsibility for contributing to the ongoing traumatization of a child, Yost put out a statement applauding the arrest of her rapist. Media outlets like Fox News also issued no correction and instead pivoted to celebrate law enforcement and demonize the Indiana doctor who provided the child’s necessary abortion.

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita appeared on Fox News on July 13th and announced that he is opening a criminal investigation into the actions of Dr. Bernard. Fox News then aired the doctor’s photo. A doctor who acted with professionalism and empathy by providing a legal, medication abortion to a child should be honored; instead, she faces the possibility of criminal charges and vigilante threats.

The incredulity of lawmakers, law enforcement and the media in this case is cruel, careless and opportunistic. Rather than take responsibility for the impact of Ohio’s restrictive abortion laws on a child’s life, they deflected responsibility and denied the story. But the case was never far-fetched. In 2020, 52 girls aged 14 and younger had abortions in Ohio.

Cruel abortion restrictions put children’s lives at risk  

In Ohio, abortions past six weeks of pregnancy are now outright prohibited, even in the case of rape or incest. This ban applies to women and children of all ages. Child pregnancy can be incredibly dangerous as children’s bodies are not suited to safely carry and deliver other children. Adolescents under 20 are at a greater risk of death and disease if they become pregnant, and their children are at greater risk for premature birth, low-birth weight and other health issues. Ohio’s decision to ban abortion after six weeks will likely kill many children, their lives put in jeopardy by so-called “pro-life” legislation.

Now, the situation is only worsening. A new bill is pending in Ohio that would ban any and all abortions, except in the most narrow of cases. Jean Schmidt, a Republican representative in Cincinnati, claims the bill has enough support to pass. The sponsors of this bill have claimed that rape and incest are not reason enough to terminate a pregnancy. Should the Ohio law pass, anyone who provides an abortion will face a fourth degree felony charge. The law does permit abortions if two doctors, from separate medical practices, agree that the procedure is necessary to save the life of the mother. Once such a determination has been made, the law would also require two physicians to be present during the abortion – one to perform the abortion and another to “care for the fetus.” The cruelty of the proposed Ohio abortion law cannot be overstated—the restrictions on healthcare providers will make abortion care, even as a life-saving procedure, impossible for many in Ohio.

Although the 10-year-old child was able to cross state lines to receive an abortion in Indiana, this option may not exist for future abortion-seekers. Indiana’s attorney general, Todd Rokita, has signaled his plans to restrict abortion, stating: “Following the landmark Dobbs decision, we eagerly anticipate clearer paths for Indiana’s common sense laws protecting unborn children and their mothers.” Indiana has already thrown out a case to reconsider the state law requiring minors to provide parental consent in order to receive an abortion. Indiana also has insurance restrictions, 18-hour waiting periods and a 20-week ban, all of which especially impact working-class women and girls in Indiana and neighboring states.

The story of a pregnant 10-year-old, forced to cross state lines to access a necessary and life-saving abortion, is an indictment of our entire political system. And she will not be the only child to face such traumatic mistreatment at the hands of the state. Mississippi House Speaker, Philip Gunn, has made a public statement that it is his “personal belief” that a 12-year-old victim of incest should be forced to carry their pregnancy to birth.

The shameless cruelty of Ohio lawmakers is just one of the reasons women and activists across the country are mobilizing thousands of people to demand action from Joe Biden. The people are calling on Biden to use his executive authority to protect abortion access and on the Democratic party to take action immediately to regain abortion rights.

This article by Alexis Moncada was originally published in socialist feminist magazine Breaking the Chains.