While giving remarks about his executive order to do with abortion on Friday, President Joe Biden got passionate while discussing a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio, who had to travel to Indiana to get her abortion. As fact-checkers with The Washington Post are looking into, though, the claim may not be as believable as the president thinks it is.
At one point during his remarks, Biden mentioned that some state laws don't contain exceptions for rape or incest when it comes to their abortion bans.
"This isn't some imagined horror. It's already happening," 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" what sounded like he said "presidency," instead of "pregnancy."
Biden also acknowledged he was inserting "my judgment" when he said the abortion would be to "maybe save her life."
During the White House press briefing that same day, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked by a reporter "has the White House confirmed that local law enforcement knows the identity of this 10-year-old victim? And has the President directed the DOJ to do everything it can to prosecute the abuser and protect her?"
"I don’t have more to share on the identity of this young woman or the question that you just asked me," she told the reporter as part of her response.
During the July 3 episode of CNN's "State of the Union," host Dana Bash questioned Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD) about her own's state abortion ban, where there are exceptions for life of the mother. Gov. Noem expressed horror about the reported rape, and stressed throughout her segment that there should be an investigation.
Bash noted that the report came from The Indianapolis Star, where it was titled "Patients head to Indiana for abortion services as other states restrict care." That report first came out on July 1. It has since made the rounds in the news. In being reprinted for The Columbus Dispatch, the article is titled "As Ohio restricts abortions, 10-year-old girl travels to Indiana for procedure."
The report mentions Dr. Caitlin Bernard, "an Indianapolis obstetrician-gynecologist" who "took a call from a colleague, a child abuse doctor in Ohio." That call happened to come three days after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, which overturned Roe v. Wade, thus sending the abortion decision back to the states. The 10-year-old was reportedly six weeks and 3 days pregnant. Ohio has a ban on abortions once a heartbeat has been detected, usually at about six weeks. There are exceptions to save the life of the mother or severely compromised physical health.
The report mentions that the 10-year-old was "soon was on her way to Indiana to Bernard's care."
Kessler emphasized the one-source in his fact-check:
The only source cited for the anecdote was Bernard. She’s on the record, but there is no indication that the newspaper made other attempts to confirm her account. The story’s lead reporter, Shari Rudavsky, did not respond to a query asking whether additional sourcing was obtained. A Gannett spokeswoman provided a comment from Bro Krift, the newspaper’s executive editor: “The facts and sourcing about people crossing state lines into Indiana, including the 10-year-old girl, for abortions are clear. We have no additional comment at this time.”
He also pointed to the duty to report in Ohio, which makes the story even more damning:
Under Ohio law, a physician, as a mandated reporter under Ohio Revised Code 2151.421, would be required to report any case of known or suspected physical, sexual or emotional abuse or neglect of a child to their local child welfare or law enforcement agency. So Bernard’s colleague would have had to make such a report to law enforcement at the same time he or she contacted Bernard. Presumably then a criminal case would have been opened.
Bernard declined to identify to the Fact Checker her colleague or the city where the child was located. “Thank you for reaching out. I’m sorry, but I don’t have any information to share,” she said in an email.
Dan Tierney, press secretary for Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R), said the governor’s office was unaware of any specific case but he said under the state’s decentralized system, records would be held at a local level. Thus, he said, it would be hard to confirm a report without knowing the local jurisdiction to narrow the search. He added: “The rape of a ten-year-old certainly would be newsworthy.”
As a spot check, we contacted child services agencies in some of Ohio’s most populous cities, including Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton and Toledo. None of the officials we reached were aware of such a case in their areas.
DeWine, asked Wednesday about the report, called it a tragedy and said the doctor in question presumably reported it to law enforcement. “We have out there, obviously, a rapist,” he told reporters. “We have someone who is dangerous and we have someone who should be picked up and locked up forever.”
An abortion by a 10-year-old is pretty rare. The Columbus Dispatch reported that in 2020, 52 people under the age of 15 received an abortion in Ohio.
Kessler then goes on to mention in "The Bottom Line" how difficult the story is to actually fact-check.
"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," he writes. "With news reports around the globe and now a presidential imprimatur, however, the story has acquired the status of a 'fact' no matter its provenance. If a rapist is ever charged, the fact finally would have more solid grounding," he concludes with.
It does not appear that Kessler gives Biden's claim a rating. Writing for NewsBusters, Tim Graham emphasized that Kessler only "MILDLY Chides Biden" for his claim.
"If Donald Trump picked up a story like this, Kessler would assign Pinocchios. As usual, there were no Pinocchios for Biden, and his take on the 'presidential imprimatur' on this possibly mythical event is so mild that you could interpret it as 'Oh, it's a fact now,'" Graham points out.
A pinned tweet from July 5, PJ Media's Megan Fox engaged in a much further deep-dive thread pointing to holes in Dr. Bernard's claims.
Fox highlights the timing of the story, as well as how Dr. Bernard doesn't have sources to point to. Fox also emphasizes how such a horrific crime would be reported. Additionally she pointed to how it "was immediately used as a political weapon against Republican Governor Kristi Noem and will be used against other pro-life politicians to make them answer this possibly hypothetical or made-up scenario to win political hit points," one coming from Jennifer Rubin.
Perhaps the most damning tweet is Fox pointing out to a New York Times piece on Dr. Bernard, highlighting her pro-abortion crusade as someone who performs them. She also cannot be further pressed on details.
?? #7 There's no way to verify Bernard's claim. She has doctor patient confidentiality. No one can FOIA her. The media won't ask any questions and even if they did she wouldn't answer. There is no proof that this 10-year-old even exists and yet the media ran with it full tilt.— Megan Fox (@MeganFoxWriter) July 5, 2022
Fox, in writing for PJ Media, noted "WaPo Late to the Party on Fact-Checking Poorly Sourced '10-Year-Old Rape Victim' Abortion Tale—BUT Proves Us Right."
Even more damning to Dr. Bernard's claims, is how Fox reported on Monday that she has been accused of failing to report underage abortions. "Indiana Right to Life audited termination of pregnancy reports that are public records in 2018 and found that nine abortion doctors allegedly failed to report underaged abortions to the health department as required by law. Bernard was one of them," Fox reported.
It's worth pointing out that not only will Republicans and pro-lifers come under attack for a story that may not even be true, but also that abortion in cases of rape are incredibly rare. A study from the Guttmacher Institute found 1 percent of abortions occur due to rape, and less than 0.5 percent occur due to incest.