By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan
With the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, a grave miscarriage of justice is rippling across the country. Abortion ban “trigger laws,” written to take effect immediately upon the defeat of Roe, are being implemented. Abortion ban exceptions for victims of rape or incest are being stripped away. These unprecedented restrictions on what was until recently a national, constitutional right came into laser focus recently, when a ten-year-old rape victim traveled from her home in Ohio to Indiana to obtain a medication abortion. The vicious attacks that she and her Indiana-based physician experienced should serve as a warning to us all of the extremely dangerous era we have entered.
On July 1st, the Indianapolis Star published the shocking story about the young rape victim. This was just one week to the day after the Supreme Court had issued its opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, overturning Roe. Hours after the decision, Ohio implemented its six-week abortion ban, which had been blocked since 2019 as unconstitutional. The story described how patients seeking abortion care were flooding into Indiana from neighboring states with severe abortion restrictions like Kentucky and Ohio.
The article described how Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an obstetrician/gynecologist, had a ten-year-old pregnant rape victim in her care. A child abuse doctor in Ohio contacted Dr. Bernard seeking help because the victim was six weeks and three days pregnant, beyond Ohio’s six-week abortion ban, which has no exceptions for rape or incest.
Right-wing media, pundits and prominent politicians immediately disputed the story. “Every day that goes by the more likely that this is a fabrication,” Ohio’s Republican Attorney General Dave Yost told USA TODAY. “Another lie. Anyone surprised?” read the tweet, later deleted, from Ohio Republican Congressmember Jim Jordan. (Jordan stands accused of helping cover up the sexual abuse of male athletes by an athletics department physician at Ohio State University when he was a wrestling coach there from 1987 to 1994.)
Fox News host Jesse Watters called the rape story a hoax, then had Indiana’s Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita on his show. Rokita said,
“And then we have this abortion activist acting as a doctor with a history of failing to report. 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 it in Indiana, it’s a crime for – to not report, to intentionally not report.”
A photo of Dr. Bernard was displayed during the interview.
The very next day, authorities in Ohio announced that they had arrested a man who had confessed to raping the ten-year-old at least twice.
Public records confirmed that Dr. Bernard had fully complied with all of Indiana’s legal requirements to report the case. Despite the publicly-available proof, Rokita said he’s investigating Dr. Bernard for possible crimes relating to her care of the young victim.
Dr. Bernard retained a lawyer and filed a complaint against Attorney General Rokita and is considering a defamation lawsuit. She has long experienced harassment and threats from anti-abortion extremists, including a 2020 kidnapping threat against her daughter. These new spurious allegations promoted by Fox News and other outlets have further exposed her to potential harm.
Anti-abortion extremists have murdered at least eleven people since 1993, from physicians, receptionists, clinic escorts and security guards to others who just happened to be present in a targeted healthcare facility. The National Abortion Federation has compiled comprehensive statistics on the violence, that, in addition to those eleven murders, includes 26 attempted murders, bombings, kidnappings, stalking, assault, vandalism, arson and more.
While Indiana Attorney General Rokita expends the public’s law enforcement resources in his witch hunt against Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an estimated 5,000 rape kits sit untested in Indiana , as documented by the End the Backlog Project. Perhaps Rokita should focus less on defaming doctors and ginning up political prosecutions and instead prioritize getting those rape kits tested, finally.
This latest wave of anti-abortion legislation is just ramping up. Laws to prevent people from crossing state lines to seek an abortion, or to prosecute them after obtaining a legal abortion in another state are being drafted. Other laws under consideration target those who “aid and abet” in an abortion, targeting virtually anyone who interacts with an abortion seeker, from family members to funders to taxi drivers as well as healthcare providers. Ultimately, the anti-abortion movement seeks a nationwide abortion ban.
Protecting pregnant people seeking abortions and their healthcare providers from anti-abortion extremists, whether they are lurking outside clinics or doctors’ homes, or inside state legislatures or the U.S. Congress, must be a priority for us all. While the overturning of Roe is a defeat – a grave miscarriage of the Justices – it’s also a call to action.