Did It Really Happen?
Abortion and “fake news.”
A pro-choice placard at a protest for the protection of abortion rights outside the U.S. Embassy on May 7, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images)
[UPDATE, July 13, 2022, 2:20 p.m. EDT: We now have the answer to the question posed in the headline of this post: Yes, it did really happen. Bethany Bruner and colleagues at the Columbus Dispatch have reported today that a 27-year-old man, Gershon Fuentes, has confessed to raping, on multiple occasions, a 10-year-old Ohio girl, who then underwent an abortion in Indiana. Fuentes has been charged with rape. The post below has not been altered, but should be read in light of this new information.]
(Happy Sunday! Once again, Cathy Young takes over the Sunday Morning Shots.)
The story of the 10-year-old pregnant rape victim in Ohio who had to travel to Indiana to get an abortion because she was three days past Ohio’s six-week cutoff point for legal abortion, reported in the Indianapolis Star on July 1, quickly went viral as a shocking example of the barbarism descending on the nation because of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. It struck even many people with pro-life sympathies as an example of anti-abortion extremism. On July 8, President Biden mentioned it when signing an executive order on abortion access.
The question is: Did it really happen?
Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler casts strong doubt on the story’s authenticity in an article published on Saturday, calling it “the account of a one-source story that quickly went viral around the world—and into the talking points of the president.”
Kessler notes that the harrowing tale appeared as the opening of a story about women from Ohio traveling to other states to get abortions.
The [original Indianapolis Star] article said that three days after the June 24 court ruling, an Indianapolis obstetrician-gynecologist, Caitlan Bernard, who performs abortions, received a call from “a child abuse doctor” in Ohio who had a 10-year-old patient who was six weeks and three days pregnant. Unable to obtain an abortion in Ohio, “the girl soon was on her way to Indiana to Bernard’s care,” the Star reported.
The only source cited for the anecdote was Bernard. She’s on the record, but there is no indication that the newspaper made other attempts to confirm her account. The story’s lead reporter, Shari Rudavsky, did not respond to a query asking whether additional sourcing was obtained. . . .
Under Ohio law, a physician, as a mandated reporter under Ohio Revised Code 2151.421, would be required to report any case of known or suspected physical, sexual or emotional abuse or neglect of a child to their local child welfare or law enforcement agency. . . .
Bernard declined to identify to the Fact Checker her colleague or the city where the child was located. “Thank you for reaching out. I’m sorry, but I don’t have any information to share,” she said in an email.
Dan Tierney, press secretary for Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R), said the governor’s office was unaware of any specific case but he said under the state’s decentralized system, records would be held at a local level. . . . As a spot check, we contacted child services agencies in some of Ohio’s most populous cities, including Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton and Toledo. None of the officials we reached were aware of such a case in their areas.
The fact-checking website Snopes.com also says that they were unable to get any corroborating information and that Bernard did not respond to their query.
At this point, I’m leaning strongly toward “probably didn’t happen.” [Note: See update above.] Pregnancy in a 10-year-old is certainly not impossible (earlier this year, a 10-year-old in Brazil was initially denied an abortion because it was sought past the 22-week cutoff point), but it is extremely rare. (Kessler notes that 52 girls under the age of 15 got abortions in Ohio in 2020; but “under 15” is not the same as 10.) It also seems likely, as some doubters of the story have noted, that a pregnant 10-year-old would have also qualified for the life or health exemption written into Ohio’s law banning abortions beyond six weeks. The law states that the ban
does not apply to a physician who performs a medical procedure that, in the physician's reasonable medical judgment, is designed or intended to prevent the death of the pregnant woman or to prevent a serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.
In raising these reasonable questions about the Ohio story, Kessler was doing basic journalism. But—in a development that will surprise exactly no one—a lot of readers in the comments under his article have reacted by making him the bad guy:
Other comments have been along the lines of it’s irrelevant whether this is true, the important thing is that it could have happened.
Sorry, folks. I’m all in favor of mobilizing public opinion on the side of abortion rights. But remember when we were all against disinformation? You can’t be against disinformation and take an “it doesn’t matter whether this is true if it helps our side” position. Otherwise, we’re in “Muslims dancing on the roof to celebrate the fall of the Twin Towers” territory. And “it could have happened” is not a good argument, either.
In all the post-Dobbs chaos, as people in states with new or newly reactivated abortion-restricting laws try to figure out what’s legal and what may not be, it’s especially important to stick to the facts—not only for the sake of the integrity of the news media and the importance of truth for our democracy, but because sowing unnecessary panic among women is not justified by the goal of drumming up more support for abortion rights and/or for the Democrats. (And I say this as someone who, at this moment, wants Republicans to lose, not only because of reproductive rights issues but because of the general abysmal state of the party.)
There have been, for instance, a lot of reports on Twitter claiming that doctors in states with abortion bans or restrictions are refusing to prescribe certain drugs that could be seen as potential abortifacients not only to pregnant women, but to all women of childbearing age—even when those drugs are medically necessary. Completely outrageous if true, but again: Is it true? A Time magazine story on these reports cites the experience of a Tennessee woman with arthritis who says “she got an automated call from her pharmacy saying her methotrexate refill for the month hadn’t been approved.” (The drug is sometimes prescribed to induce abortions, but according to the BMJ it “is also approved for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and cancer.”) The woman “eventually did get her medication after her doctor re-processed the refill request,” and neither the pharmacy nor the doctor have said that the abortion issue affected her prescription; she simply “feels the timing is suspicious.” But refills for all sorts of medicines sometimes get denied because of glitches. Time notes that states with abortion medication bans specifically exempt non-abortion-related uses of those drugs (though one could still imagine doctors being skittish) and that evidence of denials is anecdotal.
Let’s stick to the facts.
Meanwhile on the pro-life right: calls to #Resist
A recent piece by Federalist senior contributor and podcaster Georgi Boorman sets a new record for crazy, even by the standards of that nutty outlet.
It’s titled “Pro-Lifers Should Never Have Tolerated Unconstitutional Roe, And Must Never Do So Again.” (“Again” because Boorman believes, not unreasonably, that a future, more liberal Supreme Court may reinstate the constitutional right to abortion.) Boorman thinks that abortion opponents’ long-term strategy of capturing a Supreme Court majority to overturn Roe v. Wade allowed “63 million preborn lives [to be] snuffed out.”
I don’t dismiss the views of those who regard all abortion as murder, and I understand that this is a horrific toll from their point of view. But what exactly does Boorman envision as the alternative? Boorman talks about attempts to pass a Human Life Amendment (some versions of which would have outlawed abortion by explicitly making the equal standing of fetuses a part of the Constitution), but acknowledges that they have failed. The fact is that the constituency for such an amendment did not and does not exist.
Boorman’s argument seems to be simply that states with anti-abortion legislation should have said, Screw the Supreme Court! Or, as she more elegantly puts it, “we must consider the hazards of holding the Supreme Court as the final arbiters of constitutionality, particularly when matters of life, death, and bodily autonomy are at stake.”
Yet while we were consigning ourselves to that “despotism of an oligarchy” regarding abortion, 18 states and Washington, D.C. were legalizing marijuana, proving states could ignore the federal government when it oversteps its authority. If states could ignore the DEA for the sake of treating non-severe conditions and recreation, why could states not ignore a ruling that legally protected the murder of innocents in the womb, even up to the point of birth?
Setting aside the fact that the history of what happened in the states and at the federal level with regard to marijuana legalization is a lot more complicated than Boorman suggests, her analogy falls apart because the DEA is not the Supreme Court: There’s also a big difference between the federal government declining to arrest people for an activity that is legal in their states but not under federal law, and the federal government allowing states to shut down clinics or prosecute people for exercising a right upheld by the Supreme Court. What’s more, no one was contesting the feds’ non-enforcement of marijuana laws; if a Republican administration had refused to enforce federal law with regard to abortion in deference to state law, those actions would have promptly led to court battles.
In other words: One of these things is not like the other.
The bottom line: No, you can’t just ignore the law of the land, unless you want anarchy, a constitutional crisis, and possibly clashes between federal marshals and local police. (Maybe Boorman believes that protecting unborn lives is worth the risk of such consequences; but if so, she gives no indication that she even understands the risk exists.)
This way madness lies.
A few more words on Russia and Ukraine—and Jews
In my last Morning Shots newsletter, I wrote about losing (at least in the eyes of a hardcore libertarian audience) a Russia/Ukraine debate with antiwar radio talk show host Scott Horton, whose opposition to U.S. support for Ukraine takes the form of recycling every Kremlin talking point about the “neo-Nazi junta” in Kyiv and the evil American machinations behind Ukraine’s quest for independence from Russia.
That debate is now online, so, see for yourselves:
I know it’s a bit lame to Monday-morning-quarterback one’s own debates, but two additional points I should have made.
1. Russia repeatedly violated the 2015 Minsk agreements, which Horton mentioned as something the United States should have insisted on Ukraine observing.
As American diplomat Kurt Volker noted last December:
The LPR and DPR are not recognized as legitimate entities under the Minsk Agreements. The signatures of the leaders of the so-called Luhansk and Donetsk Peoples’ Republics were added after they had already been signed by Ukraine, Russia, and the OSCE. They were not among the original signatories, and indeed Ukraine would not have signed had their signatures been part of the deal. …
Russia is in violation of the Minsk Agreements. The deals require a ceasefire, withdrawal of foreign military forces, disbanding of illegal armed groups, and returning control of the Ukrainian side of the international border with Russia to Ukraine, all of this under OSCE supervision. Russia has done none of this. It has regular military officers as well as intelligence operatives and unmarked “little green men” woven into the military forces in Eastern Ukraine. The LPR and DPR forces are by any definition “illegal armed groups,” that have not been disbanded. …
Russian-led forces prevent the OSCE from accomplishing its mission in Donbas as spelled out in the Minsk Agreements. It is an unstated irony in Vienna—understood by every single diplomatic mission and member of the international staff—that Russia approves the mandate of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in Ukraine when it votes in Vienna, but then blocks implementation of that same mission on the ground in Ukraine. Because Russia is a member of the OSCE, and the SMM wants to preserve what little access it has to the occupied territories, the mission is guarded in what it says about ceasefire violations and restrictions on its freedom of movement. Privately, however, they acknowledge that some 80% of such violations and restrictions come from the Russian-controlled side of the border, and those that occur on the Ukrainian side are largely for safety reasons (e.g., avoiding mined approaches to bridges.)
Volker also notes that “Ukraine has implemented as much of Minsk as can reasonably be done while Russia still occupies its territory.”
2. The obscene labeling of the Ukrainian government as a “neo-Nazi junta” ignores not only the fact that it is currently headed by a Jewish president—and previously had a Jewish prime minister—but the fact that it has had, from the start of the 2014 “Revolution of Dignity,” the strong and overwhelming support of the Ukrainian Jewish community.
There is something extremely unsavory about suggesting that Jews support Nazis.
What bothers me the most about people's reaction to the story of a ten-year-old girl needing an abortion is that the vast majority of those, like Ms. Young, who doubt it happened base their doubt on the erroneous belief that the idea of a ten-year-old getting pregnant is so unlikely.
I have been a county-level prosecutor for almost three decades, recently (mostly) retired. The last few years I was practicing full-time I specialized in child-maltreatment cases, primarily sexual assaults. Over the course of my entire career I have been assigned literally hundreds of child SA cases. I also spent two years as our county's juvenile court prosecutor.
In that capacity I have worked closely with prosecutors around my state who also specialize in these cases, Forensic Nurse Examiners (nurses who conduct physical examinations of children who report being sexually or otherwise physically abused, looking for evidence of abuse), law enforcement officers and social workers. Anyone who has worked in this field for any length of time can easily come up with dozens cases they themselves handled where there was a very young victim of sexual assault. It is also not very rare anymore for girls as young as nine to get their first period.
Over twenty years ago when I was in juvenile court we had a 13-year-old runaway who was pregnant with her second child.
A few years ago I prosecuted a case where the child victim was vaginally raped by a cousin when she was ten years old. She was afraid she might be pregnant because she had gotten her period a few months earlier (she wasn't.)
I had another case a few years ago where the victim had been raped by her stepfather and stepbrother--repeatedly. She was seven when we interviewed her but according to the brother (he confessed) the assaults had been going on since she was four or five.
I am happy to report that all three of these guys were convicted.
I have no idea whether this Ohio/Indiana case is accurate, but I can say that based on my experience and the experience of those with whom I have worked over the years, it is extremely plausible.
If the story of the 10 year old is to be a morality tale about the mainstream media, it is a complex story. After all, it is the heart of the mainstream media, The Washington Post, that is raising doubts about the story. To me, this is a good news story about the media. Demanding that reporters never make a mistake is an unrealistic expectation. The media having mechanisms to correct mistakes is a critical part of the system, and that mechanism seems to have been set in motion.