Corrections & clarifications: This story has been updated to correct a misspelling of Gerson Fuentes’ name.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — A man was charged with impregnating a 10-year-old Ohio girl whose travel to Indiana to seek an abortion led to international attention and became a flashpoint in the national furor over the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Nearly all abortions after the detection of fetal cardiac activity became illegal in Ohio last month after the high court’s ruling. The story of a young girl traveling across state lines to receive an abortion – first reported by the Indianapolis Star, part of the USA TODAY Network – quickly went viral.
The account became a talking point for abortion rights supporters, including President Joe Biden, and some opponents and news outlets criticized the story as unproven. The criminal charges and testimony Wednesday confirm the disturbing story.
Gerson Fuentes, 27, whose last known address was an apartment in Columbus, was arrested Tuesday after police said he confessed to raping the child on at least two occasions. He’s charged with rape – a felony of the first degree in Ohio – and is held in the Franklin County jail on a $2 million bond.
The child’s mother reported the girl’s pregnancy to Franklin County Children Services on June 22, which informed Columbus police, Detective Jeffrey Huhn said Wednesday at Fuentes’ arraignment. The girl underwent a medical abortion in Indianapolis on June 30, Huhn said.
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The girl told police Fuentes was responsible for her pregnancy, Huhn testified. Assistant Franklin County Prosecutor Daniel Meyer said she had recently turned 10, meaning she was probably impregnated at 9 years old.
Huhn testified that DNA from the clinic in Indianapolis is being tested against samples from Fuentes. Before being arrested, Huhn and Columbus police Detective David Phillips collected a saliva sample from Fuentes, according to a probable cause statement.
Last month, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the decision in 1973 that established a constitutional right to abortion. The ruling triggered a cascade of state-level prohibitions, including in Ohio, where a “heartbeat” bill became law hours after the opinion was released.
The law prohibits abortions after fetal cardiac activity can be detected, including in cases of rape or incest. Fetal cardiac activity is typically detected around six weeks of gestation, when most people usually do not know they are pregnant. The only exception to Ohio’s law is if the life of the mother is in jeopardy.
The Indianapolis Star reported the story this month, attributing the account to Caitlin Bernard, an Indianapolis physician who provides abortion services.
“Imagine being that little girl,” Biden said Friday as he decried the high court’s decision. “I’m serious. Just imagine being that little girl.”
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Multiple news outlets and officials questioned the account. The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial Tuesday with the headline “An Abortion Story Too Good to Confirm,” stating “there’s no evidence the girl exists.”
“What we seem to have here is a presidential seal of approval on an unlikely story from a biased source that neatly fits the progressive narrative but can’t be confirmed,” the editorial read.
A Washington Post fact check published Saturday referred to the account as a “one-source story that quickly went viral around the world – and into the talking points of the president.”
Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School, penned an op-ed in the New York Post calling for more information about the account. “We have little proof that the story is true despite some significant legal and factual questions,” Turley wrote Tuesday.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost questioned the validity of the account during an appearance on Fox News this week. Yost, a Republican, told host Jesse Watters that his office had not heard “a whisper” of a report being filed for the 10-year-old victim.
“We have regular contact with prosecutors and local police and sheriffs – not a whisper anywhere,” Yost said.
Yost said Tuesday in an interview with the USA TODAY Network Ohio bureau that the more time passed without confirmation, the more likely “that this is a fabrication.”
“I know the cops and prosecutors in this state,” Yost said Tuesday. “There’s not one of them that wouldn’t be turning over every rock, looking for this guy, and they would have charged him. They wouldn’t leave him loose on the streets. … I’m not saying it could not have happened. What I’m saying to you is there is not a damn scintilla of evidence.”
Wednesday, once news of the arraignment came, Yost issued a single-sentence statement: “We rejoice anytime a child rapist is taken off the streets.” He later added that he’s “absolutely delighted that this monster has been taken off the street. If convicted, he should spend the rest of his life in prison.”
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Turley said Wednesday that his column noted that the case “could be real but that there were glaring legal and factual questions raised.”
The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial Thursday with the headline “Correcting the Record on a Rape Case.” The editorial stated: “It appears President Biden was accurate when he related a story about a 10-year-old Ohio girl who was raped and traveled to Indiana for an abortion.”
Since May 9, there have been at least 50 police reports of rape or sexual abuse involving a girl 15 years or younger in Columbus, according to an IndyStar analysis.
The number is probably an underestimate due to restrictions on public records related to allegations initiated by mandated reporters. The report involving the 10-year-old girl falls into that category.
Dr. Erika Werner, chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, said there are children who start their first menstrual cycle as early as 8 years old and could get pregnant.
In 2020, there were 52 abortions among children 15 or younger in Ohio, accounting for .3% of the 20,605 abortions performed that year, according to the Ohio Department of Health. In Indiana, 67 of the 8,414 people who obtained abortions in 2021 were 16 or younger, according to the state Department of Health’s annual report.
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Meanwhile, Ohio’s GOP-controlled General Assembly is likely to make its abortion ban even earlier than six weeks, with no exceptions for victims of rape or incest. Lawmakers are crafting language on when abortions would be banned, but past proposals barred the procedure after fertilization, which could prohibit some birth control.
The ability of Ohio residents to seek abortion services in Indiana could soon be curtailed. Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, called a special legislative session scheduled to convene July 25. Republicans, who hold supermajorities in both chambers of the state General Assembly, pledged to enact new abortion restrictions.
Legislative leaders haven’t said whether their abortion proposal would allow exemptions for rape, incest or the life of the pregnant person, or at what point in a pregnancy they would ban abortion.
Tuesday, Holcomb called the case of the 10-year-old rape survivor a “horrific example” but declined to say whether he was comfortable banning abortions in cases involving young rape victims.
“I am reserving comment until we see a bill,” he said.
Contributing: Grace Hauck and Adrianna Rodriguez, USA TODAY; Laura Bischoff and Eric Lagatta, The Columbus Dispatch; Dayeon Eom, The Indianapolis Star.
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