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Ohio attorney general said 10-year-old rape victim could have had abortion in Ohio, but state law isn't clear

Dave Yost
Posted at 5:13 PM, Jul 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-15 11:05:49-04

CLEVELAND — Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has been in the national spotlight since a Monday night interview with Fox News in which he cast doubt on the story of a 10-year-old Ohio girl who sought an abortion in Indiana because of Ohio’s new six-week abortion ban. That story turned out to be true, and he changed his tune when an arrest in the case was announced Wednesday. But now we’re looking at another portion of that interview that our viewers asked us to look into, and we did some digging.

At the end of the interview, Yost said he wanted to correct something that the national media outlets were getting wrong in their coverage of this story. “Ohio’s heartbeat law has a medical emergency exception, broader than just the life of the mother,” he said. “She did not have to leave Ohio for treatment.”

Viewers asked: what’s this medical emergency exception, and how would it have applied to this case?

We started by checking the text of the law. Yes, there is a medical emergency exception written in. The law then refers to Ohio Revised Code for a definition of “medical emergency.” According to paragraph F of ORC Section 2919.16:

"Medical emergency means a condition that in the physician's good faith medical judgment, based upon the facts known to the physician at that time, so complicates the woman's pregnancy as to necessitate the immediate performance or inducement of an abortion in order to prevent the death of the pregnant woman or to avoid a serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman that delay in the performance or inducement of the abortion would create."

That doesn’t clarify how the 10-year-old would have qualified for an abortion under this exception, so we spoke with Professor of Law and Bioethics Sharona Hoffman from Case Western Reserve University to try and sort this out. She said it’s not clear.

“The language here is 'medical emergency', which would suggest that the person does not have time to go to another state,” Hoffman said.

There are concerns about how doctors will be able to treat their patients under this law. Since much of the medical emergency exception is left up to a doctor’s discretion, there’s a gray area. Doctors could face a fifth-degree felony charge if someone questions their decision down the line, putting them in a tough spot.

“They have to engage in a calculus,” Hoffman said. “They have to balance the patient’s best interests against their own best interest and think about whether doing a procedure will result in a risk of prosecution for themselves. And that is very dangerous.”

Hoffman couldn’t speak to this case specifically since we know so few details about that 10-year-old girl or the circumstances surrounding her medical condition.

We reached out to Yost’s office for clarification and received this statement, quoting some of the same legal text we already shared with you:

Explainer Regarding Ohio’s Heartbeat Law Exceptions by Wews WebStaff on Scribd

Yost questioned whether this 10-year-old's case existed at all a few days ago, so it isn't clear how he would have had the details to determine whether this would have qualified as a medical emergency under Ohio law.

You can watch News 5's interview with Yost after the alleged rapist was arrested in the player below:

Man arrested for rape of Ohio girl who went to Indiana for abortion

RELATED: Doctor who performed abortion for 10-year-old rape victim speaks out after Indiana AG threatens investigation

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