10-year-old rape victim forced to travel for abortion care underscores extreme post-Roe restrictions

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The case of a 10-year-old rape victim in Ohio, where abortions after six weeks of pregnancy are outlawed, who was forced to travel for care in Indiana has underscored the dramatic, far-reaching consequences of the end of constitutional protections for abortion care in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s landmark decision to strike down Roe v Wade.

Ohio is among 10 states – including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas – that do not provide any exceptions for abortions from pregnancies resulting from rape or incest under their state laws governing abortion care.

Following the US Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization on 24 June, state-level restrictions and “trigger” laws that previously were considered unconstitutional under the half-century-old Roe ruling were enacted across the US.

State legislators across the US are moving quickly to draft legislation to severely restrict or outlaw abortion access entirely without a constitutional right to an abortion protected by the Supreme Court.

Even with narrow legal protections in place to access an abortion in the event of rape or incest, many patients will be required to produce a police report, potentially rendering exceptions meaningless.

Ohio’s “trigger” law prohibits abortions past six weeks of pregnancy, before many patients know they are pregnant, or roughly two weeks after a missed period.

Dr Catilin Bernard, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Indianapolis, Indiana, where abortions are currently legal, said she had received a call from a colleague in Ohio seeking help for a 10-year-old girl who was six weeks and three days pregnant, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

In Indiana, state legislators will convene for a special legislative session on 25 July to consider further restrictions on abortion.

“It’s hard to imagine that in just a few short weeks we will have no ability to provide that care,” Dr Bernard told the Columbus Dispatch.

Last week, the Ohio legislator who sponsored a bill to ban nearly all abortions in the state said “to end the pregnancy of the child is not going to erase those wounds or those scars” and that a child conceived from rape or incest “still has the right to life.”

In April, State Rep Jean Schmidt, a Cincinnati-area Republican, referred to a hypothetical pregnancy involving a 13-year-old rape victim as an “opportunity.”

She said House Bill 598 is likely to pass both chambers of the GOP-controlled legislature this fall.

That legislation also would create a new misdemeanor crime of “promoting” abortion, targeting people who sell or distribute medication abortion as well as companies that have announced that they will cover their employees’ travel costs to states where abortion is legal.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, a rare anti-abortion Democratic governor, signed a bill into law last month that outlaws abortion from the point of “fertilisation or implantation” with no exception for rape or incest. The law was temporarily blocked under a court order.

Despite approving the law, he said in a statement that he believes “women who are survivors of rape or incest should be able determine whether to continue with a pregnancy that is the result of a criminal act.” The law does not do that.

South Dakota’s Republican Governor Kristi Noem also has defended her state’s law banning abortions in nearly all instances, including pregnancies from rape or incest.

“What I would say is, I don’t believe a tragic situation should be perpetuated by another tragedy,” she told CNN on Sunday. “And so 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.”

She made similar remarks a week earlier, telling CBS Face the Nationthat she “never believed that “having a tragedy or a tragic situation happen to someone is a reason to have another tragedy occur.”

When pressed by NBC’s Meet the Press host Chuck Todd last week whether he supports his state’s law that prevents a hypothetical 13-year-old rape victim from getting an abortion, Arkansas’s Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson said he would “prefer a different outcome”.

But even in states that have made exceptions for abortions in the event of rape or incest, it may prove difficult or impossible to find a doctor who can perform them.

Providers and advocates in Idaho, Mississippi, North Dakota and Wyoming – four states that have rape or incest exceptions in their abortion bans — have warned that while those laws do allow people to end pregnancies in those cases, it will likely be easier to assist their patients’ travel to another state than it would be to clear the extremely narrow state-level obstacles to legal care.

The conservative anti-abortion movement has moved increasingly unconditional in its mission to both overturn Roe v Wade and see passage of a nationwide ban on abortion care, according to historians and legal analysts who have traced the history of the movement.

Model legislation from the National Right to Life Committee, the nation’s largest anti-abortion oganisation, suggests that those exceptions can only be made “when documentation is presented to the attending physician that demonstrates that the crime has been reported to law enforcement.”

Roughly two-thirds of sexual assaults go unreported, according to the US Department of Justice.

Those demands, from a largely minority-driven movement with an outsized influence in state legislatures, are increasingly unpopular.

Nearly 70 per cent of Americans believe abortion should be legal if pregnancy is the result of rape, according to a May survey from the Pew Research Center.

Sixty-six per cent of Americans are dissatisfied with their states’ anti-abortion laws, according to January polling from Gallup.