She was just 10 years old, so young that many people were horrified when they heard it, and others refused to believe it. But the ordeal of the child rape victim in Ohio who had to cross state lines for an abortion, and the ugly political fight that followed, have highlighted two uncomfortable facts: Such pregnancies are not as rare as people think, and new abortion bans are likely to have a pronounced impact on the youngest pregnant girls.
New bans in nearly a dozen states do not make exceptions for rape or incest, leaving young adolescents — already among the most restricted in their abortion options — with less access to the procedure. Even in states with exemptions for rape and incest, requirements involving police reports and parental consent can be prohibitive for children and teenagers.
“The situation out of Ohio is in no way unique,” said Katie McHugh, an OB-GYN in Indiana and board member of the group Physicians for Reproductive Health, which favors abortion rights. “This is a situation that every abortion provider has seen before.”
the institute concluded there were 4,460 pregnancies among girls under 15, with about 44 percent ending in abortion. In Ohio alone, 52 girls under 15 received an abortion in 2020 — an average of one every week, according to the state Department of Health.
It is unclear how often these pregnancies are the result of incest or rape. Children in this age group are generally below the age of sexual consent, though sexual contact between two similar-aged young teenagers is not always considered a crime. And some states allow children to marry with parental permission.
In Ohio, sex with a person under the age of 13 is a first-degree felony. Abortion is now banned in the state after around six weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape or incest.
The startling age of the Ohio rape victim helped propel doubt over her story, which quickly morphed into a political firestorm after it was reported in The Indianapolis Star. Abortion rights advocates and President Biden pointed to the girl’s experience as the tragic consequence of abortion bans. Conservatives questioned whether the child existed, and even the Ohio attorney general initially said he found no evidence of such a victim.
tweeted, “My heart breaks for all survivors of sexual assault and abuse. I am so sad that our country is failing them when they need us most.”
Read More on the End of Roe v. Wade
Lauren Ralph, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, said her research shows that adolescents who seek abortion tend to be firm in their choice but face barriers such as lack of transportation, and parental notification and consent laws, which exist in the majority of states. Minors who seek to avoid parental notification, such as in the case of incest or when a parent would seek to compel pregnancy, are often required to file a police report or appear before a judge.
Those are high and sometimes impossible bars to clear, experts said, especially for individuals without legal assistance, and young victims who may have been hurt by the adults closest to them.
With some Americans living up to 400 miles away from the nearest legal abortion provider, the new state bans stand to affect teenagers severely.
“We know that young people already faced many more barriers to accessing abortion prior to the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade,” Dr. Ralph said. “What will happen with this decision is that those barriers for young people living in restricted states will now multiply.”
Dr. Bernard, the Indiana OB-GYN who provided an abortion for the 10-year-old Ohio girl, said in an interview in early July, before the political firestorm erupted, that she had experience treating other very young rape victims.