Last week, President Joe Biden used a speech on the end of Roe v. Wade to draw attention to the cruelty of abortion bans. The most attention-grabbing section of his address focused on the heart-wrenching case of a 10-year-old rape victim who was denied an abortion in Ohio.
Since then, the girl’s case has been the subject of speculation, lies and callous disregard from Republicans and conservative media. But what happened to this young girl in Ohio isn’t what happens when anti-abortion Republicans are overzealous — it’s what happens when their plan is perfectly executed.
The media firestorm surrounding the girl’s case came to a head on Wednesday, when The Wall Street Journal editorial board ran a piece that described reports of the 10-year-old as “fanciful” and an “unlikely story.” The headline alone is enough to sicken anyone who cares about the safety of children, calling a girl impregnated by a rapist trapped in a state that bans abortion, “An Abortion Story Too Good to Confirm.”
This isn’t what happens when anti-abortion Republicans are overzealous — it’s what happens when their plan is perfectly executed.
A lot of words come to mind when I think about the lifelong trauma of your government forcing you to carry your rapist’s child when you yourself are still a child, but “good” isn’t one of them. “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 WSJ editorial board wrote.
Previously, Fox News called the rape victim’s story a hoax. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost called it a “fabrication” without bothering to explain his reasoning. And in a since-deleted tweet, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, encouraged his followers to question the validity of the child’s story. As the executive editor of Vanity Fair tweeted: “Doxxing a 10yo rape victim is actually quite literally what the WSJ is calling for."
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Hours after the Journal’s editorial went live, The Indianapolis Star and The Columbus Dispatch reported that a man had been arrested and charged with raping the girl, silencing many of the critics. But it bears repeating that the girl that these powerful mostly male lawmakers and journalists were attacking is 10 years old. As Alyssa Rosenberg noted at The Washington Post, she is old enough to watch Pixar movies, but still too young for Marvel movies. She probably just got permission to cross the street without adult supervision and she is about to learn about fractions and solve problems with decimal points. She’s still considered by most parents to be too young to have a phone. A 10-year-old girl isn’t old enough to go to Disneyland by herself — but the Republican Party seems to think she’s old enough to become a mother.
In trying to dissuade the public that the story was false, Republicans inadvertently highlighted the horrifying truth: The harrowing tale of an abused child forced to carry a rapist’s baby to term is not an accidental quirk in the abortion bans they’re passing. It’s what they were designed to do. Ohio, like most states with new abortion bans, deliberately makes no exceptions for rape or incest. The lack of provisions to protect rape victims is not an omission, it’s premeditated.
When pressed on the viciousness of their anti-abortion laws, Republicans in various states openly admit to it. After Roe was overturned, Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn told a reporter he believes that a 12-year-old girl should be coerced to give birth to her father or uncle’s child. It’s a view shared by JD Vance, who is running for the GOP nomination for an Ohio Senate seat, and who thinks the state should force victims to bear children from rape. “The question to me is really about the baby,” he said. “Two wrong don’t make a right.” Also in Ohio, state representative Jean Schmidt recently argued rape victims should be denied an abortion because a baby created from rape could end up curing cancer.
Other Republicans have preferred to unfurl lies about female bodies having a supernatural ability to avoid pregnancy from rape altogether, which is of course, fallacious. In Virginia, GOP congressional candidate Yesli Vega doubted a woman or girl can get pregnant from rape based on her estimation of the average length of rape. “The individual, the male, is doing it as quickly [as possible],” she asininely explained.
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Of course, rapists often impregnate their victims. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3 million women in the United States will become pregnant from rape. Twenty percent reported that their rapist actively tried to get them pregnant by refusing to wear a condom or controlling their birth control intake. For many rapists, pregnancy is not just a consequence, it’s the point. Sexual and reproductive violence are often intertwined and perpetrators use both to damage their victims, which makes these myths Republicans are spreading that much more deranged.
During debate on a bill in Oklahoma, Republican Sen. Warren Hamilton appeared disgruntled the law permitted abortion when a woman has an ectopic pregnancy, which is never viable and is life-threatening. This stands in sharp contrast with the American public with more than 85% of people believing in abortion in all or some cases, especially when the life of the mother is in jeopardy.
Cruelty is the point of these bans — and it’s working.
What needs to be made clear from this ghoulish exercise is that it’s not one child who will be raped and forced by the state to have a baby with a rapist, it will be hundreds or thousands. If abortion bans stay in place or get worse as Republicans say they want, the fate of this 10-year-old girl in Ohio will be the fate of many more little girls.
It’s not just women and birthing people who no longer have bodily autonomy, it’s children who happen to be born girls, too. Even girls with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis are forced to prove they’re not pregnant to get access to the drugs they need. Overturning Roe has endangered women, but the effect on young girls is deeply distressing given that pregnancy in children is more dangerous than it is for women and is a global leading cause of death for teenage girls. Any government banning girls from receiving abortions is a form of state-sponsored sexual violence. Forced pregnancy is a crime against girls, and a crime against girls is a crime against humanity.
All children are born vulnerable, but in a country with abortion bans, girls are in peril. Girls don’t have a powerful lobby. But those who doubted the veracity of her experience just made her strength that much more palpable, her resilience that much more salient in contrast with the cowardice of grown-ups desperate to take her bodily freedom away from her. If those in power had even an ounce of her courage, maybe they wouldn’t need to make up lies about hers.