Ohio man charged with rape of 10-year-old girl who travelled for abortion

Child's case drew international attention after she had to cross lines to undergo procedure

People protest the recent overturn of Roe vs Wade at Union Square in New York. EPA
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An Ohio man has been charged with raping and impregnating a 10-year-old girl, whose case drew international attention after she had to travel out of state to Indiana for an abortion as the laws in her home state stipulated that she could not undergo the procedure.

US President Joe Biden highlighted the child's case last week at the signing of an executive order to safeguard abortion access, as Republican-led states enacted legislation that prohibited the procedure even in the case of rape or incest.

“This isn’t some imagined horror,” Mr Biden said in his remarks at the signing. “Imagine being that little girl. Just — I’m serious — just imagine being that little girl.”

Police in Columbus, Ohio, were made aware of the girl's pregnancy after her mother notified Franklin County Children's Services on June 22, The Columbus Dispatch reported on Wednesday. The 27-year-old suspect was arrested on Tuesday after admitting to raping the girl on two occasions, police said.

The girl underwent an abortion in Indianapolis, Indiana, on June 30, Detective Jeffrey Huhn said at an arraignment hearing on Wednesday. He also said that DNA from the abortion clinic was being tested to confirm the suspect's paternity.

An Indianapolis physician who provides abortion services, Caitlin Bernard, told The Indianapolis Star that an abortion had been provided for the child because the girl could not have the procedure performed in Ohio under a newly imposed state ban on abortions at the first detectable “foetal heartbeat”.

“My heart breaks for all survivors of sexual assault and abuse. I am so sad that our country is failing them when they need us most,” Dr Bernard wrote in a tweet on Wednesday.

Appearing on Fox News on Monday, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said he had heard “not a whisper” from state law enforcement about arrests made in connection with the case, implying it could be a hoax or a cover up.

“Another lie. Anyone surprised?” Jim Jordan, a Republican representative, said in a since-deleted tweet on the case.

On Wednesday, Mr Jordan tweeted that the suspect “should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law”. A message from The Associated Press was left with his office on Wednesday seeking comment.

In the Fox interview, Mr Yost said 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 would not have risen to the threshold of an emergency, Kellie Copeland, director of Pro-Choice Ohio, an abortion rights group, said on Wednesday.

In a statement on Wednesday, Mr Yost said Ohio's Bureau of Criminal Investigation stands ready to support law enforcement officials “putting these criminals behind bars”.

Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican, previously called the crime a tragedy.

“He has said that if the evidence supports it, the rapist should spend the rest of his life in prison,” said the governor's spokesman Dan Tierney.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Updated: July 14, 2022, 3:19 PM