Inside the Doubt Around Case of 10-Year-Old Rape Victim

One pundit says to expect more one-source abortion stories, if any at all
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 15, 2022 10:50 AM CDT
How a 10-Year-Old Rape Victim Became 'a Political Pawn'
Dr. Caitlin Bernard, a reproductive healthcare provider, speaks during an abortion rights rally on June 25, 2022, at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis.   (Jenna Watson/The Indianapolis Star via AP)

There was plenty of scrutiny applied to the story of a 10-year-old rape victim in Ohio who needed to travel out of state for an abortion following the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. But now that it's been proven true, scrutiny is falling on those who cast doubt on the story. "A girl was assaulted, and then she was punished again by her government, and then she was doubted by journalists whose job it is to seek truth, and then she was used as a political pawn by politicians who were inconvenienced by the implications of her situation," writes Washington Post columnist Monica Hesse. More:

  • Many pointed out that the Indianapolis Star's initial report on the case cited a single source: Dr. Caitlin Bernard. But "in every other medical story I can think of, a doctor sharing the story of a patient would be considered highly credible," writes Hesse. Indeed, "if a surgeon describes removing a tumor for a broader article on new surgical techniques, we do not demand to talk to the cancer survivor."
  • The Wall Street Journal's editorial board on Tuesday described the report as "fanciful," adding "no one has been able to identify the girl or where she lives." But Bernard, bound by privacy rules, couldn't just name "an underage sexual assault victim," Hesse writes. And doubtful journalists could have investigated further, as reporters with the Indianapolis Star and Columbus Dispatch ultimately did.

  • Ohio's Republican Attorney General Dave Yost on Tuesday called the story a likely "fabrication," noting prosecutors and police officers—whose arrest of a suspect in the rape wasn't made public until Wednesday—wouldn't leave a rapist "loose on the streets." But "it's not rare that 10-year-olds are assaulted, it's rare that their attackers are actually caught and punished," Hesse writes. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, only 30% of sexual assaults are reported to police and fewer than 1% end in conviction.
  • "The country needs to find a rough consensus on abortion now" and "one way to help is to make sure that stories about abortion, from either side of the debate, can be readily confirmed," according to the WSJ editorial board. But "in America after the end of Roe v. Wade, one brave source, on the record, is often the best we are going to get," writes Laura Hazard Owen at NiemanLab. "Countless abortion stories will never be told at all," not because they're lies, but "because patients and doctors and staffers and volunteers will face arrest for coming forward."

  • Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita launched an investigation to determine whether the doctor reported the abortion and sexual assault. The Star reported Thursday that Bernard did report the abortion to the Indiana Department of Health and the Department of Child Services on July 2 as required by state law. Informed of that reporting, Rokita told CNN that the investigation "remains open."
  • It's fine to withhold judgment on a single-source story "until more information emerges. But that's not what happened here. Instead there was sneering incredulity, as if a raped 10-year-old being denied an abortion wasn't an inevitable consequence of an abortion ban without a rape exception," writes New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg.

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  • Some have claimed the girl would've qualified for an exemption to the Ohio abortion law. It states abortion is permitted in order to prevent death or irreversible bodily harm that "delay in the performance or inducement of the abortion would create." "But if you were an abortion provider in Ohio, would you stake your career, and perhaps your freedom, on prosecutors like Yost giving you the benefit of the doubt?" asks Goldberg. She adds, "If none of this is what anti-abortion lawmakers intended, nothing is stopping them from amending their laws."
  • Jim Bopp, general counsel for the National Right to Life Committee, tells Politico that the girl would have been forced to carry the pregnancy to term under the model legislation he's authored for state legislatures considering more restrictive abortion measures "unless her life was at danger." "We don't think we should devalue the life of the baby because of the sins of the father" and "we would hope that she would understand the reason and ultimately the benefit," he says.
(Read more abortion stories.)

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