In a case that has become a flashpoint in the abortion debate after being highlighted by Joe Biden and baselessly disputed by some rightwing media and politicians, an Ohio man has been charged with raping a 10-year-old girl who later traveled to neighboring Indiana for an abortion.
Gerson Fuentes, 27, who was arrested on Tuesday, appeared in Franklin county, Ohio, municipal court for an arraignment on Wednesday. A police investigator testified at the hearing that Fuentes had confessed to raping the girl at least twice.
The arrest came after rightwing media – and the Republican Ohio attorney general – had poured scorn on reports of the child’s abortion, suggesting it was “not true” and “too good to confirm”.
The victim in the case underwent an abortion in neighboring Indiana on 30 June, the police officer testified at the Wednesday hearing.
A statewide ban on abortions in Ohio after the sixth week of pregnancy – before many women are aware they are pregnant – went into effect just hours after the supreme court’s ruling that struck down Roe v Wade, the 1973 decision that had established a constitutional right to abortion.
The incident gained attention this month when the Indianapolis Star newspaper reported she had to travel to Indiana to secure an abortion because she was three days past Ohio’s six-week limit, which does not include exceptions for rape or incest.
Abortions after six weeks remain legal in Indiana, though the Republican-controlled state legislature is expected to consider new restrictions later this month.
Biden spoke of the girl in remarks to reporters about abortion access.
“Just imagine being that little girl – 10 years old,” he said angrily at the White House on Friday.
The president’s comments prompted a furious, unsavory response from rightwing media, including Fox News, Breitbart, and the Wall Street Journal.
Tucker Carlson, Fox News, most prominent host, said on his show on Tuesday:
“Why did the Biden administration, speaking of lying, just repeat a story about a 1o-year-old child who got pregnant, and then got an abortion or was not allowed to get an abortion, when it turns out the story was not true?”
The New York Post ran an op-ed with the headline: “Activist tale of a 10-year-old-rape victim’s abortion looks like a lie”, before changing the title, Media Matters reported.
One America News, a rightwing cable news channel, covered the story above the chyron: “The lies and deceit of abortionists”, while Benny Johnson, from Turning Point USA, said “there is no proof” that the 10-year-old victim “exists”.
The Wall Street Journal, which, like Fox News and the New York Post, is owned by the Murdoch family, published an article from its editorial board with the headline: “An Abortion Story Too Good to Confirm”.
“All kinds of fanciful tales travel far on social media these days, but you don’t expect them to get a hearing at the White House,” the editorial began.
It wasn’t just conservative media that claimed the incident did not happen.
Dave Yost, the Republican Ohio attorney general, told Fox News on Monday that there was “not a whisper” of evidence to support the story. In an interview with USA Today on Tuesday, Yost said the details were “more likely than not a fabrication” because there had been no arrest and no evidence uncovered, Ohio’s Columbus Dispatch reported.
In a statement on Wednesday after the arrest, Yost, who defended the state’s six-week ban in state court after the supreme court decision, said: “My heart aches for the pain suffered by this young child. I am grateful for the diligent work of the Columbus police department in securing a confession and getting a rapist off the street.”
Yost was not alone in doubting the story. Kristi Noem, the governor of South Dakota, and Jim Jordan, a congressman from Ohio also claimed the story was untrue.
In an interview with CNN, Noem accused a journalist of attempting to “trap me” by asking about the case, Newsweek reported.
“Now it looks like the story was fake to begin with,” Noem tweeted on 8 July. “Literal #FakeNews from the liberal media.”
Jim Jordan, in a tweet which was later deleted, wrote: “Another lie. Anyone surprised?”
Fuentes is being held on $2m bond and is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on 22 July.
A court-appointed defense attorney for Fuentes did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In all, 26 US states have either severely restricted abortions in the wake of the ruling or are expected to do so in the coming weeks and months.
July 14, 2022 at 07:55PM Adam Gabbatt and agencies