COLUMBUS — The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.
With varying degrees of subtlety, some Ohio Republicans are pushing back on an account that a 10-year-old rape victim traveled to Indiana earlier this month to get an abortion.
The girl had to make the trip, according to the report, because of 2019 restrictions signed by Gov. Mike DeWine that took effect when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade on June 24.
However, Ohio’s own abortion statistics and other reporting show that it’s disturbingly possible for a 10-year-old to become impregnated in the Buckeye State. Meanwhile, some of the doubts being raised are a little less plausible.
The Ohio / Indiana case
On July 6, the Indianapolis Star published an explosive allegation.
Caitlin Bernard, an Indianapolis OB-GYN, said she got a call two days earlier from an Ohio colleague saying that a pregnant 10-year-old was just beyond Ohio’s six-week limit for abortions and needed help. The girl was soon on her way to Indianapolis, the story said.
Ten-year-olds who become pregnant are by definition rape victims, but Ohio’s abortion law doesn’t make exceptions for rape and incest.
DeWine and his spokesman responded to the story by ignoring questions about whether children should be forced to have their rapists’ babies. Instead, they stressed that all they knew about the case was from media reports.
Then DeWine allies contacted members of the press, asking how sure they were that the case of the pregnant 10-year-old even happened. The Washington Post, the conservative Daily Caller and other media outlets published stories saying that the case was unverified.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, who supports the new abortion restrictions, went on Fox News on Monday to raise further doubts. He said he works closely with law enforcement authorities and he’d gotten “not a whisper” about the case.
“Something maybe even more telling,” he told host Jesse Watters, “is my office runs the state crime lab. Any case like this, you’re going to have a rape kit, you’re going to have biological evidence and you would be looking for DNA analysis… There is no case request for analysis that looks anything like this.”
However, that argument might not be quite as compelling as the attorney general says.
The Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence points out that such evidence can only be collected shortly after an assault occurs. And, it adds, the younger the victim, the narrower the window.
“Evidence collection (a ‘rape kit’) is a voluntary part of the sexual assault exam,” the group’s website says. “Evidence collection is available up to 96 hours (4 days) after an assault for patients who are 16 years of age or older, and up to 72 hours (3 days) after the assault for patients who are 15 years of age and younger.”
Meanwhile, the state’s own manual says children might not tell their abuse and rape stories until well after the incidents happen. That can result in adult denial that they happened at all, it adds.
“Frequently, little or no physical evidence may be found to corroborate the child’s story since a) physical force is usually not used when children are sexually abused and b) children are often brought for evaluation of sexual abuse days to months after the event, whereby injuries sustained from the abusive event will have completely or partially healed,” the Ohio Department of Health’s Child and Adolescent Sexual Abuse Protocol says. “This reinforces denial by the family.”
The document adds that it’s up to health care providers to determine whether it’s likely to be productive or harmful to subject a minor to an hours-long rape exam.
“When patients present to a hospital or clinic, it is the responsibility of the hospital or clinic to determine if trace evidence collection is indicated,” the state protocol says.
Unfortunately, there appear to be no shortage of instances in which girls can become pregnant in Ohio — even some involving girls as young as 10.
“In 2021, Ohio’s Children’s Advocacy Centers saw 8,890 cases of abuse (and) of those 6,717 were sexual abuse cases ranging in age from 0-18 years old,” the Ohio Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers reports. “In every case, as warranted, we work closely and collaboratively with law enforcement agencies.”
Scores of those children are becoming pregnant.
In 2020, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 52 girls aged 14 and younger had abortions in Ohio, according to the state department of health. Thankfully, that number is down from an apparent high of 334 in 1998.
The health department was asked last week to provide a breakdown by age of 14-and-younger abortions performed in Ohio, but so far it hasn’t responded.
There’s even some evidence that in a single city — Columbus — it’s plausible that a 10-year-old has recently become pregnant. A review of the city’s police log since March 15 uncovered 59 reports of sexual assaults of girls 15 and younger that, based on the information available, could have resulted in pregnancy.
Exact ages for such victims are not included in the log. But when the department’s Records Management Bureau checked those case numbers, at least one involved a 10-year-old victim, Sgt. Joe Albert said. He stressed, however, that doesn’t mean the victim is the same girl who reportedly went to Indiana for an abortion.