Child-Rape Case Shines a Harsh Light on Ohio’s Draconian Abortion Restrictions

The report that a 10-year-old girl, pregnant as a result of rape, had to travel from her home state of Ohio to neighboring Indiana for an abortion sent shock waves across the country, emblematic of the dystopian reality ushered in after the Supreme Court struck down the protections provided by Roe v. Wade. The story quickly became a flashpoint in the broader abortion debate. “This isn’t some imagined horror…. Imagine being that little girl. Just—I’m serious—just imagine being that little girl. Ten years old,” a visibly emotional Joe Biden said Friday from a lectern in the Roosevelt Room, during a press conference to announce an executive order on protecting women’s reproductive rights. “Does anyone believe that it’s the highest majority view that that should not be able to be dealt with, or in any other state in the nation? A 10-year-old girl should be forced to give birth to a rapist’s child? I can tell you what: I don’t. I can’t think of anything as much more extreme.”

As the story gained national attention, allies of Republican incumbent governor Mike DeWine—who signed the so-called “heartbeat bill” banning abortion after around six weeks of pregnancy, with no exception for rape or incest, into law—lined up to sow doubt that the child victim even existed. On Monday, Ohio attorney general David Yost said his office hadn’t heard a “whisper” about the case. “There is no case request for analysis that looks anything like this…I know our prosecutors and cops in this state,” Yost said in an interview with Fox News. “There’s not one of them that wouldn’t be turning over every rock in their jurisdiction if they had the slightest hint that this occurred there.” Some news outlets, too, questioned the sourcing on the original story, including the The Washington Post, while right-wing political and media figures piled on. “An Abortion Story Too Good to Confirm,” opined the Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial board, while Fox News host Jesse Watters suggested the account was a “hoax.” Ohio Republican Jim Jordan dismissed the story as “another lie.”

Jordan has since deleted that tweet. Because on Wednesday, doubts went up in smoke when The Columbus Dispatch reported that a 27-year-old Columbus man had been arrested in the rape of the child. Police say that the man, Gerson Fuentes, confessed to raping the girl on at least two occasions, confirming the initial Indianapolis Star report. Immediately, criticism of the doubters poured in. “Rather than dealing with the awful repercussions of their abortion ban, Governor DeWine, Attorney General Yost, and their staffs chose to attack a 10-year-old rape survivor,” Democrat Nan Whaley, the first woman nominee from a major party for Ohio governor challenging DeWine in November’s election, said in a statement Wednesday. “They should be ashamed of themselves, and have once again shown that they are unfit to lead our state. They owe this little girl, her family, and every Ohioan an apology. Ohio deserves better than these callous politicians.” (Yost, Watters, and Jordan have all applauded the arrest, and Jordan said that he “never questioned” the child.)

The newscycle has thrust the spotlight on Ohio, one of more than a dozen states that had bans or restrictions on abortion go into effect following the ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. And in this post-Dobbs world, the stakes of the governor’s race in the state have been thrust into stark relief. With a Republican-majority legislature and Roe’s protections obsolete, the next governor of Ohio will determine the future of abortion in the state. The reality of the situation in Ohio is that the law was never in doubt. It is now illegal for a 10-year-old, more than six-weeks pregnant, to receive an abortion in the Midwest state—with limited exceptions for severe health issues, but none for rape and incest. And Republican lawmakers intend to go even further in restricting access to abortion. Earlier this week, a group of Republican state lawmakers introduced a bill that would ban abortion at conception, unless the pregnant person’s life is at risk. The bill could also ban certain forms of contraception that can begin working after fertilization, depending on how the bill’s reference to “personhood” is interpreted.

“We saw this coming, but it doesn’t hurt all the less, especially since the six-week ban went into effect mere hours after Roe fell. So Ohio really got a double punch on Friday, the 24th of June,” Aileen Day, the communications director for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio, said. “But even before that, accessing an abortion here in Ohio was incredibly difficult and we’ve been experiencing that, so have our patients. There have been 30 bans and restrictions on abortion in the last 10 years alone here in Ohio.”

Now, abortion access has emerged as a central issue in the gubernatorial race. “When Dobbs came down two Fridays ago it just fundamentally shifted the race,” Whaley said in an interview. Whaley said that her campaign saw an immediate surge in fundraising following the Dobbs ruling, in addition to a galvanization of supporters. A rally of hers the following Sunday drew a crowd, she said, of 5,000 to the statehouse—3,100 of whom signed up to volunteer. “It’s not that we’re saying much of anything different…It’s because people know that this is gonna be a state issue and that the governor’s office is the last place to protect women’s access to abortion and women’s health care.” 

Unlike in other states with attention-grabbing gubernatorial races, Ohio’s isn’t about hypotheticals and “what-ifs” on abortion, DeWine already has a record on the issue. When asked about the case of the 10-year-old rape victim, DeWine condemned the crime. “This is a horrible, horrible tragedy, you know, for a 10-year-old to be assaulted, 10-year-old to be raped, you know, as a father and grandfather…it’s just gut-wrenching to even even even think about it,” he said.

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