The case became a flash point in the abortion debate after the young victim was forced to travel out of state for the procedure.
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An Ohio man has been arrested and charged with the rape of a 10-year-old girl, whose travel across state lines to receive an abortion captured national attention.
Gerson Fuentes, 27, was arraigned on Wednesday in Franklin County Municipal Court in Columbus, where he was charged with the rape of a child under 13 years old, a felony that can carry a lifetime prison sentence. He was being held on $2 million bond.
The arrest, and its connection to the case of the young rape victim, was first reported in The Columbus Dispatch after a public dispute over whether the story was true.
The case of the young victim became a focus of the abortion debate after the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion enshrined in Roe v. Wade.
That decision triggered a wave of abortion restrictions, including a law in Ohio that bans abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy, with no exception for rape or incest. The law blocked the 10-year-old from receiving an abortion in her home state after her parents discovered she was pregnant.
According to a doctor familiar with her case, and testimony from a court hearing, the girl’s family took her to Indiana to receive an abortion, where the procedure is still legal up to 22 weeks.
The girl’s story, which first appeared in The Indianapolis Star, was immediately seized on by abortion rights advocates as the tragic but expected consequence of severe abortion restrictions.
President Biden cited the story after signing an executive order on abortion: “Ten years old. Raped, six weeks pregnant. Already traumatized. Was forced to travel to another state.”
Before this week’s arrest, some conservatives, including Ohio’s top prosecutor, cast doubt on the story. The young girl has not been identified publicly, nor has the Ohio doctor who first treated her, and Attorney General David Yost told Fox News that his office was unaware of a case involving a 10-year-old rape victim.
On Wednesday, Mr. Yost’s office released a statement praising the arrest of Mr. Fuentes.
“My heart aches for the pain suffered by this young child,” the statement said. “I am grateful for the diligent work of the Columbus Police Department in securing a confession and getting a rapist off the street.”
In an editorial published before news of the arrest, The Wall Street Journal called the case “an unlikely story from a biased source that neatly fits the progressive narrative but can’t be confirmed.” The Journal later added an editor’s note acknowledging the arrest.
In a video of the court hearing posted by the conservative news site Townhall, Detective Jeffrey Huhn testified that the victim was a 10-year-old whose mother took her to Indiana to receive an abortion at the end of June when she was just past six weeks pregnant. Detective Huhn said in Wednesday’s hearing that Mr. Fuentes confessed to raping the girl twice.
The Columbus Division of Police declined to comment.
A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Mr. Fuentes was an undocumented immigrant. A lawyer for Mr. Fuentes did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The timeline laid out in the police testimony matches the account provided by Dr. Caitlin Bernard, the OB/GYN who first told The Star about the case.
“It’s always shocking to me that people are surprised to hear about these stories,” Dr. Bernard said in an interview with The New York Times. “The fact that anyone would question such a story is a testament to how out of touch lawmakers and politicians are with reality.”
Dr. Bernard said such stories were unfortunately not as rare as people might think, and noted that she cared for her first underage rape victim early on in her medical residency. She has since helped several families navigate pregnancy after a child is raped, she said.
More than 7,000 girls age 14 or younger were pregnant nationwide in 2013, according to a report by the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights. About half of those pregnancies were terminated through abortion, according to Guttmacher.
Ohio’s own public health data found that more than 500 girls and women 18 and under received an abortion in 2020.
Some anti-abortion lawmakers have approached the challenge of a Balkanized legal landscape with proposals to deter residents from traveling to other states to seek abortions. Gov. Eric Holcomb of Indiana called a special legislative session, scheduled for July 25, where the state may consider tighter abortion restrictions.