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The case of a 10-year-old child rape victim in Ohio who was six weeks pregnant, ineligible for an abortion in her own state, and forced to travel to Indiana for the procedure has spotlighted the shocking impact of the US supreme court ruling on abortion.
The story of the girl came to light three days after the court overturned a nationwide right to terminate pregnancy, and Ohio’s six-week “trigger ban” came into effect.
Dr Caitlin Bernard, an Indianapolis obstetrician-gynecologist, said she had received a call from a colleague doctor in Ohio who treats child abuse victims and asked for help. Indiana’s lawmakers have not yet banned or restricted abortion, but they are likely to do so when a special session of the state assembly convenes later this month.
Abortion providers like Bernard say they are receiving a sharp increase in the number of patients coming to their clinics for abortion from the neighboring states where such procedures are now restricted or banned.
“It’s hard to imagine that in just a few short weeks we will have no ability to provide that care,” Bernard told the Columbus Dispatch.
But the case of the 10-year-old girl has placed prominent anti-abortion political figures in the position of balancing the rights of women and girls – including abuse victims – while defending abortion restrictions.
Republican governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota, mentioned as a potential running mate to Donald Trump in 2024, told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday that she found it to be “incredible” that “nobody’s talking about the pervert, horrible and deranged individual that raped a 10-year-old”.
Abortions are now criminal acts in South Dakota “unless there is appropriate and reasonable medical judgment that performance of an abortion is necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant female”. Cases of incest and rape are not an exception under South Dakota’s law as it stands.
On Friday, the state also banned medical abortion by telemedicine and increased the penalty for the unlicensed practice of medicine when performing abortions.
Dana Bash, CNN’S State of the Union host, pressed Noem on whether it was right for a 10-year-old rape victim who was pregnant to have to cross state lines for a legal abortion.
Seeming to try to deflect, Noem said the rape of children is “an issue that the supreme court has weighed … as well”, adding that the public should also be “addressing those sick individuals [who] do this to our children”.
Asked if she would seek to have the law changed if a similar case occurred in her state, Noem replied: “I don’t believe a tragic situation should be perpetuated by another tragedy. There’s more that we have got to do to make sure that we really are living a life that says every life is precious, especially innocent lives that have been shattered, like that 10-year-old girl.”
Asked if the girl should have to have the baby, Noem responded that “every single life – every single life is precious. This tragedy is horrific. But, in South Dakota, the law today is that the abortions are illegal, except to save the life of the mother.”
But asked if allowing an abortion to be be performed on a 10-year-old would be considered as protecting the life of the mother, Noem did not rule out that interpretation.
“Yes, that situation, the doctor, the family, the individuals closest to that will make the decisions there for that family,” she said, returning to the issue that for many Republicans is the central focus of the abortion debate.