In an unsurprising development, the same people who attempted to cast doubt on the harrowing story of a 10-year-old rape victim forced to travel from Ohio to Indiana for abortion care appear to be completely botching the job of investigating the doctor who provided the child care—which was already a ludicrous investigation in the first place. According to an attorney for Dr. Caitlin Bernard, the Indiana abortion provider who cared for the child earlier this month, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita’s probe of her—launched to determine whether she’d failed to report the 10-year-old’s case to the state—is “riddled with inaccuracies.”
Since Rokita made this declaration on Fox News, all but inciting anti-abortion extremists to (once again) stalk and attack Bernard, the Indianapolis Star confirmed Bernard had in fact reported the child’s abortion within two days—within the three-day time frame that Indiana law requires for the abortions of patients under 16-years-old to be reported. “None of the complaints came from a ‘consumer’ who purchased any goods or services from Dr. Bernard or even from a person who has had direct communication with Dr. Bernard,” Bernard’s lawyer, Kathleen DeLaney, said in a statement shared with HuffPost. Further, the complaints against the doctor “rely on [individuals with] no first-hand knowledge.”
In Rokita’s suit against Bernard, DeLaney says the attorney general cites a complaint that lists the doctor’s phone number as “555-555-5555”—sounds trustworthy to me! The ostensibly tough-on-crime AG, so tough-on-crime he’ll bully and harass a doctor, also cites complaints against Bernard from someone who has a “significant criminal history,” DeLaney noted.
“Unfortunately, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita continues to use his office to try and intimidate Dr. Caitlin Bernard,” Bernard’s lawyer said. “We urge Mr. Rokita to stop wasting taxpayer money and our time on his nonsensical campaign against Dr. Bernard for doing her job as a physician properly and in accordance with the law.”
Within days of Roe v. Wade being overturned last month, the child rape victim from Ohio had to travel across state lines for care after Ohio’s six-week abortion ban went into effect. The child was reportedly six weeks and three days pregnant. Right-wing politicians and media wasted no time pretending the harrowing story was fake news, beginning with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) stating he simply had no knowledge of the case and couldn’t comment and escalating to Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost telling Fox, “Every day that goes by, the more likely that this is a fabrication.”
The Wall Street Journal, not to be outdone, ran a story under the truly ghoulish headline—again, about a 10-year-old rape victim—“An Abortion Story Too Good to Confirm,” and suggested the child’s trauma was a “fanciful” figure of left-wing imagination. Eventually, on July 13, the victim’s alleged rapist was arrested, but the damage inflicted by these attacks on Bernard and a literal child had already been done.
“I feel anguished, desperate and angry,” Bernard wrote in a Washington Post op ed last week. “I don’t want to be the one who loses a patient because her pregnancy killed her before I could save her. I don’t want to live in a place where my government tells me that child sex abuse victims must become mothers. I don’t want to have to accept that a particular religious ideology eclipses my duty as a physician.”
Bernard, who’s currently preparing to sue Rokita for defamation, is unfortunately well acquainted with the consequences of viral right-wing conspiracy theories and anti-abortion extremism. In 2020, the FBI informed her of a threat from anti-abortion activists to kidnap her young daughter. We already know the violence of which anti-abortion activists are more than capable. Rokita knew what he was doing when he said on Fox, “This is a child, and there’s a strong public interest in understanding if someone under the age of 16 or under the age of 18 or really any woman is having abortion in our state.”
The lies lodged against Bernard and, by extension, her 10-year-old patient enduring unthinkable trauma, are a transparent attempt to downplay and erase the horrific, everyday consequences of overturning Roe. Much like increased maternal deaths, increased domestic violence against pregnant people, denial of life-saving medications, and more women and pregnant people jailed, child rape victims are denied care all too often in countries that ban abortion. Days prior to Roe being overturned, an 11-year-old rape victim in Brazil was denied an abortion.
That anti-abortion activists’ response in the face of all this harm is to smear and lie, rather than self-reflect on the gender-based violence innate to their bans, presents an important lesson: There’s no experience that will ever be sympathetic enough to a movement that simply does not care about the suffering it’s causing.
And that suffering is on the brink of getting even worse: The Indiana state legislature is in the process of steam-rolling an abortion ban that could threaten doctors like Bernard with prison-time and massive legal fees for offering care—including to patients like the Ohio child she served. The cruelty is immeasurable.