ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS and JULIE CARR SMYTH - Associated Press
An Ohio man has been charged with raping a 10-year-old girl whose case drew national attention following a doctor’s comments that the child had to travel to Indiana for an abortion, an account that had led some prominent Republicans — including Ohio’s attorney general and a congressman — to suggest it was fabricated.
Democratic President Joe Biden highlighted the case last week at the signing of an executive order aimed at protecting access to abortion as state after Republican-led state, including Ohio, enacted near-total restrictions after the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent landmark ruling.
A detective testified Wednesday at an initial court appearance for the 27-year-old suspect that Columbus police learned about the girl’s pregnancy after her mother alerted Franklin County Children Services on June 22, The Columbus Dispatch reported. The detective said the girl had an abortion in Indianapolis on June 30.
The detective said DNA from the Indianapolis abortion clinic was being tested to confirm paternity.
An Indianapolis physician who provides abortion services, Dr. Caitlin Bernard, had told The Indianapolis Star that an abortion had been provided for such a child because the girl couldn't get the procedure in Ohio under a newly imposed state ban on abortions at the first detectable “fetal heartbeat.” A judge lifted a stay on the ban after the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.
Appearing Monday on Fox News, Republican Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said he hadn’t heard “a whisper” from law enforcement in Ohio about any reports or arrests made in connection with such a case.
“Another lie. Anyone surprised?” Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan tweeted in reaction.
Then Wednesday, Jordan tweeted that the suspect “should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” A message was left with his office Wednesday seeking comment.
In the Fox interview, Yost suggested that the young rape victim would have met the Ohio “heartbeat” abortion ban’s exception for medical emergencies.
“This young girl, if she exists and if this horrible thing happened to her — it breaks my heart to think about it — she did not have to leave Ohio to find treatment,” he said.
The law defines an emergency as life-threatening or involving a “serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” Under that definition, the 10-year-old's condition wouldn't have risen to the threshold of an emergency, Kellie Copeland, director of Pro-Choice Ohio, an abortion rights group, said Wednesday.
In a statement Wednesday, Yost said the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation stands ready to help prosecute the case. He did not address his previous suggestions that the case was fabricated.
Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, previously called the crime a tragedy. "He has said that if the evidence supports, the rapist should spend the rest of his life in prison,” said DeWine spokesperson Dan Tierney.
Police say the man confessed to raping the girl. He was arrested Tuesday and has not entered a plea.
Court records don’t specify whether or how the suspect knew the girl. The prosecutor’s office declined to comment on the case, and the police department did not respond to a request for additional details. The Associated Press generally doesn’t identify victims of sexual assault and, for now, is not naming the suspect to avoid inadvertently identifying the girl.
In 2019, the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit on behalf of Bernard, the doctor in the 10-year-old's case, challenging a law passed by Indiana’s Republican-dominated Legislature that largely banned a second-trimester abortion procedure, which the legislation called “dismemberment abortion.”
The law took effect for the first time last week after a federal judge lifted an injunction blocking it, following the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita said on Wednesday that his office is investigating Bernard.
“We’re gathering the information, we're gathering the evidence as we speak, and we’re going to fight this to the end, including looking at her licensure if she failed to report. And in Indiana it’s a crime … to intentionally not report,” Rokita said on Fox News on Wednesday night.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Julie Carr Smyth, Kantele Franko and Samantha Hendrickson in Columbus, Tom Davies in Indianapolis and Sophia Tulp in New York.