A story about a 10-year-old rape victim who had to leave Ohio to get an abortion is facing increasing skepticism after it was repeated by President Joe Biden, with a fact-checker saying it’s “very difficult” to verify the tale’s authenticity.
Biden referenced the story on July 8 when he signed an executive order aimed at preserving abortion access in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision regarding Roe v. Wade, which affirmed that abortion isn’t a constitutional right, but rather a matter that should be left to individual states. The order pledges to ensure the safety of abortion providers, including mobile clinics that are usually deployed near the borders of states where abortion is restricted.
“Some of the states don’t allow for exceptions for rape or incest,” Biden said. “Just last week, it was reported that a 10-year-old girl was a rape victim in Ohio—10 years old—and she was forced to have to travel out of the state, to Indiana, to seek to terminate the [pregnancy] and maybe save her life.
“Imagine being that little girl. I’m serious, just imagine being that little girl—10 years old!”
The report the president referenced was published on July 1 by the Indianapolis Star, which cited Dr. Caitlan Bernard, an Indianapolis-based obstetrician–gynecologist, as the single source.
Speaking to the Star, Bernard said a “child abuse doctor” in Ohio contacted her after finding that the young patient was six weeks and three days pregnant—three days late for a legal abortion under a recently revived Ohio law, which prohibits abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.
Glenn Kessler, a fact-checker for The Washington Post, found the story to be dubious. In an analysis published on July 9, he pointed out that physicians in Ohio have a legal obligation to tell the police when they see signs of child abuse, yet no arrest related to this particular case has been reported. The original Star report didn’t state whether it was being investigated by the police.
“A physician, as a mandated reporter under [Ohio law], would be required to report any case of known or suspected physical, sexual or emotional abuse or neglect of a child,” Kessler wrote.
He also noted that the office of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine stated that it was “unaware of any specific case.”
In addition, the original story didn’t provide details about the location of the alleged crime. According to Kesseler, child services agencies in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, Toledo, and other populous Ohio cities were unaware of any 10-year-old rape victims in their jurisdictions.
“None of the officials we reached were aware of such a case in their areas,” Kessler wrote. “This is a very difficult story to check. Bernard is on the record, but obtaining documents or other confirmation is all but impossible without details that would identify the locality where the rape occurred.”
Fact-checking website Snopes also said Bernard hadn’t responded to its request for additional information and that it hasn’t been able to “independently corroborate the abortion claim.”
When asked whether the Biden administration had confirmed the identity of the victim with local law enforcement or directed the Justice Department to prosecute the abuser and protect the girl, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said she had no information to share on the matter.
“Anything to do with the DOJ, that’s a legal component. I would refer you to DOJ,” Jean-Pierre said during the July 8 White House press briefing, noting that the president told the story “just to show how extreme the decision is.”
“When you have such a young girl who has to carry out the child of a rapist, that is unacceptable. You heard that from him directly.”