'This Is Sick': Indiana Doctor Investigated Over Abortion Care for Child Rape Victim
"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," said Dr. Caitlin Bernard, the targeted provider.
Indiana's Republican attorney general sparked widespread outrage on Wednesday night by launching an investigation into a doctor in his state who recently provided legal abortion care to a child rape victim from Ohio.
"They're either actively trying to get her killed, or just don't give a damn that they're putting her in danger."
"A 10-year-old girl was [raped] in Ohio and because of their anti-abortion law was sent to Indiana to be treated. Now that Indiana doctor is being investigated and faces criminal penalties. This is actually happening in America," tweeted Pennsylvania state Rep. Peter Schweyer (D-22).
Sharing a clip of Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita announcing the probe on Fox News' "Jesse Watters Primetime" late Wednesday, former Democratic Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner said that "this is sick."
The show--which was among the media outlets and public figures initially casting doubt on the child's story--put up a photo of Dr. Caitlin Bernard, who treated the girl, while Rokita explained the investigation.
"They're either actively trying to get her killed, or just don't give a damn that they're putting her in danger," Washington Post columnist Radley Balko declared of airing the doctor's photo.
That sentiment was echoed by others, such as Dr. Prasad Jallepalli of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, who said that sharing the image of Bernard was "unconscionable."
\u201cThe only reason to put up her picture on national news is to try and put a target on her. I can't even.\n\nShe was caring for a child who was raped.\u201d— Aaron E. Carroll (@Aaron E. Carroll) 1657761734
Bernard tweeted Wednesday night that "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. Doctors must be able to give people the medical care they need, when and where they need it."
Dr. Daniel Grossman, director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco, thanked Bernard for her "dedication to patients and survivors," and called her "a light and an example to us all in this dark moment."
Rokita, meanwhile, described Bernard as "an abortion activist acting as a doctor with a history of failing to report" before pledging that "we're gonna fight this to the end, including looking at her licensure if she failed to report."
In a statement Thursday--after again highlighting that the man accused of rape is believed to be undocumented--Rokita said that the probe focuses on whether Bernard, a mandated reporter, reported the abuse and abortion, along with any potential violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA).
Author Jessica Valenti warned that other abortion providers could be similarly targeted.
"Conservatives are going to do this with any abortion provider--but especially those who make 'pro-lifers' look bad by shining a light on the most horrific cases," she said. "What they're doing right now is issuing a warning: Don't raise the alarm on raped 10-year-olds and don't help those who need it. Because if you do, we'll ruin your life."
Valenti was far from alone in using the case to issue a broader warning about the dangers to pregnant people and providers in the United States after the recent reversal of Roe v. Wade.
"A 10-year-old rape victim in Ohio was denied an abortion. Let that sink in for a second. Instead of helping this little girl, the GOP wants to force her to have her attacker's child. THIS is the world the GOP wants to create and why we must make our voices heard NOW to stop them," said Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-Colo.).
MSNBC's Chris Hayes on Wednesday highlighted that "this child who had been raped had to flee across state lines like she was the criminal," and said: "Let's be clear-eyed about what the anti-abortion Republican Party wants. They want a world in which that child would be forced to carry her rapist's baby."
\u201c.@chrislhayes: "Thank God this 10-year-old girl did not have to carry this pregnancy to term. And let's be clear eyed about what the anti-abortion Republican Party wants. They want a world in which that child would be forced to carry her rapist's baby.\u201d— All In with Chris Hayes (@All In with Chris Hayes) 1657761076
The child's story was first reported by the Indianapolis Star on July 1 and quickly gained national attention. Even U.S. President Joe Biden noted the assault and abortion during a July 8 speech, urging the audience to "just imagine being that little girl" and saying that " I can't think of anything as much more extreme" than forcing her to give birth to a rapist's child.
As journalist Judd Legum detailed for his newsletter Popular Information on Thursday, while reproductive rights advocates this month have framed the case as just one example of what lies ahead, some reporters, Republican elected officials, and right-wing pundits questioned whether any of it had actually happened--until a suspect was arrested this week.
The Columbus Dispatch was the first to report that "Gerson Fuentes, 27, whose last known address was an apartment on Columbus' Northwest Side, was arrested Tuesday after police say he confessed to raping the child on at least two occasions. He's since been charged with rape, a felony of the first degree in Ohio."
Bethany Bruner of the Dispatchtweeted Wednesday afternoon that "I was the ONLY reporter in the courtroom this morning as the man accused of raping a 10-year-old girl, impregnating her, leading to an abortion in Indiana, was arraigned."
As Politicooutlined Thursday:
The clean-up followed shortly after the news of the arrest. Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan deleted a tweet in which he had called the story "another lie." The Wall Street Journal editorial page had to walk back on an editorial titled "An Abortion Story Too Good To Confirm" that called the case a "fanciful" tale. And [Ohio Republican Attorney General Dave Yost], who originally cast doubt on the story, tweeted on Wednesday that his "heart aches" for the child and that he was grateful for the arrest--not acknowledging his previous skepticism.
Critics have also slammed Glenn Kessler's fact-check of the girl's story for the Post, with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) calling it "horrifying" and Legum saying that he "repackaged right-wing conspiracies (an abortion provider invented a 10-year-old rape victim) in a veneer of respectability."
Laura Hazard Owen, editor of the Nieman Journalism Lab, warned Wednesday that in the post-Roe world, "unimaginable abortion stories will become more common," and American journalism is not ready.
"Countless abortion stories will never be told at all. It won't be because they're lies. It will be because telling them is too risky, because patients and doctors and staffers and volunteers will face arrest for coming forward," she wrote. "The facts will live on in the shadows. The women and children's real lives will continue. Even if their stories seem 'too good' to be true. Even if you wish they weren't."
The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), by texting "START" to 88788, or through chat at thehotline.org. The National Sexual Assault Hotline can be reached 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), or through chat at rainn.org. Both offer 24/7, free, and confidential support.