The news of a 10-year-old Ohio rape victim who traveled to Indiana to obtain an abortion caught national attention last week when President Joe Biden mentioned it in a White House speech. Those reports were soon rebuffed by abortion opponents who suggested the story had been fabricated.
By the time an Ohio man was ultimately arrested Tuesday and charged with raping the young girl — evidence of the initial report’s accuracy — the case had already become a microcosm of the fight over abortion rights in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision last month to overturn decades of precedent that had established a constitutional right to abortion access.
Before The Columbus Dispatch reported Wednesday that 27-year-old Gerson Fuentes had been charged with and confessed to raping the girl, Ohio’s attorney general, state elected officials and The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, among others, all cast doubt on whether the account of the girl’s pregnancy and subsequent travel across state lines for an abortion was true.
Biden highlighted the case, originally reported by the Indianapolis Star, last week as an example of the dangers of the curtailing or outright elimination of access to abortion in Republican-led states. The 10-year-old Ohio girl couldn’t obtain an abortion in her home state at just over six weeks of pregnancy because of a newly imposed state ban prohibiting abortions after the first detectable “fetal heartbeat.”
Republicans were quick to pounce on the case as news of it spread nationally, spouting claims that the story was part of a pro-liberal abortion rights agenda.
Republican Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said on Monday in an appearance on Fox News that he had heard “not a whisper” about the case from law enforcement or arrests made in connection with the case. He doubled down on Tuesday, suggesting to USA Today’s Ohio bureau that the story was a “fabrication.”
“I’m not saying it could not have happened,” Yost told USA Today. “What I’m saying to you is there is not a damn scintilla of evidence.”
When the news broke Wednesday of a man’s arrest in connection with the case, Yost released a statement praising the Columbus Police Department for “getting a rapist off the street.” He made no mention in the statement of his previous assertions about the validity of the case.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) — prior to the arrest of the man charged in the case — had echoed Yost’s sentiment.
“Another lie. Anyone surprised?” Jordan said in a tweet, which he deleted after the rapist had been arrested and charged. Jordan said in a subsequent tweet that the suspect “should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Republicans from across the country continued to pile onto the narrative that the story was a hoax prior to the rapist’s arrest.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said in a tweet last week that “it looks like the story was fake to begin with. Literal #FakeNews from the liberal media.”
Media outlets also joined in on casting doubt on the case prior to the rapist’s arrest. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board rebuked Biden for highlighting what it called an “unproven” story.
“What we seem to have here is a presidential seal of approval on an unlikely story from a biased source that neatly fits the progressive narrative but can’t be confirmed,” the board said.
In a follow-up editorial published Thursday, the Journal’s editorial board conceded that the reports it had questioned were indeed accurate. The Journal lamented that the initial reports had not been more thoroughly confirmed by law enforcement or local press but wrote that “we appreciate our obligation to correct the record on the case, which is a terrible one.”
Fox News host Jesse Watters spent the opening segment of his show on Monday casting doubt on the case, saying “no one even knows anything about it” and calling the initial source of the story, Dr. Caitlin Bernard, a “press darling.” Emily Compagno, another Fox News host, on Tuesday said she found it “deeply offensive” that the media had to “make up” a fake rape victim.
Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, a Republican, said Wednesday that his office would investigate Bernard, the doctor who helped the 10-year-old victim cross state lines to obtain an abortion.
“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.
Now that the story has been verified and the original claims have been debunked, Republicans have taken to politicizing a different dimension of the case: immigration.
Fox News has reported that the man charged in the case is an undocumented immigrant, citing a source with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Other conservative outlets have also updated their reports on the case, highlighting the immigration status of the suspect.
“Undocumented immigrants raping 10 year old girls is probably not the narrative they want on this so expect that inconvenient fact to be dropped,” conservative commentator Stephen Miller said in a tweet on Wednesday.
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