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Opinion: Conservatives show disturbing lack of empathy to child rape victim in Ohio case

Lisa Needham

Republican officials and commentators were quick to declare the story ‘a fabrication,’ ‘#FakeNews,’ and ‘a fictive rape.’

Earlier this month, a story surfaced that seemed to highlight the absolute worst fears of those who warned that overturning Roe v. Wade would lead to horrors like minors being forced to deliver their rapist’s child. Now, with the rapist arrested nearly two weeks later, the story highlights not just those horrors but the vicious tendencies of Republicans in Ohio and elsewhere.

The Indianapolis Star published the story on July 1. It focused on an Indianapolis-based OB/GYN who had received a call from a colleague in Ohio who specialized in child abuse. The colleague had a 10-year-old patient who was pregnant and was three days past Ohio’s brand new six-week abortion ban. The patient was sent to the OB/GYN in Indiana for the procedure.

Indiana doesn’t currently make abortions easy to obtain. There’s a mandatory waiting period, both Medicaid and private health insurance are generally barred from covering the procedure, telehealth administration of medication is banned, and there’s a parental consent requirement. Moreover, GOP legislators are champing at the bit to further restrict abortion in light of Roe being overturned, with a special session at the end of July that is sure to address the issue.

Rather than being appalled that a child had to flee the state to get a medical procedure so they wouldn’t be forced to bear their rapist’s child, Republicans responded in a variety of ways, all of them terrible.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican, ran to Fox News to say the whole story was a lie:

Every day that goes by, the more likely that this is a fabrication. I know the cops and prosecutors in this state. There’s not one of them that wouldn’t be turning over every rock looking for this guy, and they would have charged him. I’m not saying it could not have happened. What I’m saying to you is there is not a damn scintilla of evidence.

Yost also faulted who he clearly saw as the real criminals here. First, the newspaper for publishing the story: “And shame on the Indianapolis paper that ran this thing on a single source who has an obvious axe to grind.” Next, the child abuse doctor who helped ensure the 10-year-old rape victim could access abortion: “It is a crime if you’re a mandated reporter and you fail to report.”

It isn’t surprising Yost would react this way. He didn’t even wait an hour after the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision came down before filing to remove the injunction against Ohio’s six-week ban. That ban has no exceptions for rape or incest.

National Review’s Michael Brendan Dougherty smirked on Twitter that the entire thing was a “fictive abortion and a fictive rape.” South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem declared the story “fake to begin with” and “#FakeNews from the liberal media.” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) at first tweeted that the story was “another lie,” but at least had the dignity to delete the tweet after a 27-year-old man was arrested on Tuesday and confessed to the crime.

Now that it’s clear the rape did happen, Yost is trying to save face by insisting that provisions in Ohio’s extremely restrictive ban would have allowed the child to receive an abortion in the state because it would have constituted a medical emergency. Yost retweeted conservative law professor Jonathan Turley’s thread, where Turley stated that the fact the law allows for an abortion “to prevent a serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman” means the child could have had an abortion because a 10-year-old would certainly face a risk of death from giving birth.

That’s absolutely true, but it puts the lie to anti-choice activists who fight against exceptions to bans. Being pregnant can be dangerous. That’s especially true for Black and low-income people, in addition to underage people who are victims of sexual assault. If the dangers of pregnancy actually mattered to anti-choice activists, they wouldn’t be so restrictive in their bans that seek to make it as difficult as possible for pregnant patients to receive the care they need.

Ohio’s draconian six-week ban will likely get even more restrictive. Republican lawmakers have already introduced a bill to ban abortion from the point of contraception. The conservative-dominated Ohio Supreme Court refused to block the six-week ban, so there’s no reason to think they’d stand strong against a complete ban.

Three Ohio Supreme Court spots are on the ballot in 2022, but the conservative justices currently have a fundraising advantage. Democratic turnout in Ohio is absolutely vital to electing a state supreme court that might be able to serve as a bulwark against a complete ban, and against people like Yost — people whose first impulse is to deny the very existence of a child who was raped.