Below is my column on the case of the ten-year-old rape victim who allegedly was taken to Indiana because an abortion was barred in Ohio. (A shorter, edited version of this column ran in the New York Post). There is a Fox News report that it was able to confirm an abortion involving a ten-year-old girl in Indiana but could not confirm the other claims. Fox is also reporting that a HIPAA complaint has been filed against Dr. Caitlin Bernard. There remain, however, questions as to why the child had to leave Ohio, which has exceptions that would apply to the case. This may reflect confusion among these doctors, but the law seems clear on the available exceptions. There is also the question of what happened to this child and whether a police report was filed. There may have been such a report. It should not violate HIPPA or other laws to confirm that a report was filed and the victim has been protected by authorities.
Here is the original column:
“Not a whisper.” Those three words from Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost left many of us perplexed on Monday night when he said that his search for a notorious child rape case in his state had turned up nothing. The case of a ten-year-old girl raped and impregnated in Ohio was the focus of not just exhaustive coverage and outrage in the media, but the condemnation of the President of the United States. However, the Yost comments added to some unanswered questions about underlying facts in the controversy, including the need to transport the child to Indiana to have the pregnancy terminated.
The story of the child rape united the nation in revulsion, but also became the rallying point for the condemnation of the Supreme Court, including in comments by President Biden. In his White House address, Biden decried 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. 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.”
Indeed, when the story broke, it was hard for most of us to imagine such a horrific situation. However, it was also hard to imagine why these doctors took this action when the treatment could have occurred in Ohio, which not only has an exception to protect the life of the mother but also “to prevent a serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.” Moreover, it was not clear if case was raised after a heartbeat was detected (around six weeks) in such a case.
The story remains based entirely on an account from Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Indianapolis. Indianapolis Star reporter Shari Rudavsky reported that “On Monday three days after the Supreme Court issued its groundbreaking decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Dr. Caitlin 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.
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 that his staff could not find a single police report or a lab case. Indiana law also requires medical professionals like Dr. Bernard to report such cases. So both the “child abuse doctor” and Dr. Bernard were presumably under an obligation to report the rape.
Various news organizations have tried to get Dr. 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 Dr. Barnard 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 Washington Post could not get any new information from Dr. Bernard. The Post’s “fact checker” Glenn Kessler noted in his column in the Washington Post that the Indianapolis Star story did not seem to meet basic journalistic standards and that the lead reporter Shari Rudavsky also refused to answer basic questions. Kessler noted “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.”
None of this means that this did not occur. However, if it 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.
Moreover, this story indicates that two physicians who are involved with abortion services required a child to be carted off to another state when she was legally allowed to have this procedure in Ohio.
The apparent lack of interest in a follow up (or even a substantive response) by the Indianapolis Star is equally baffling. The Star should be able to confirm the basic facts of the story without compromising any source. Not only did Bernard not request anonymity, but Indiana has a strong media “shield law” to protect their sources.
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 as in the case of an ectopic pregnancy or a ten-year-old rape victim.
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. Her victimization should not become exploitation where her story rather than her current wellbeing is the primary concern of coverage.