When Fact-Checking Goes Wrong: the Pregnant 10-year Old

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I hate to say it but here comes another video that I have to start with a content warning: I’m going to be discussing a really disturbing case of sexual assault on a child.

As I’ve mentioned before, the conservative, Religious Right-controlled US Supreme Court recently overturned Roe v. Wade, which immediately led to abortion being banned in South Dakota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama, and so incredibly restricted that it is essentially banned in South Carolina, Tennessee, and Ohio. Millions of people live in these states and are currently suffering from the archaic legislation that is now the law of the land – not just women, and not just people with functional uteruses, but a huge swath of people. For instance, 1.3 million Americans have rheumatoid arthritis, which is often treated with a drug called methotrexate. It’s also used to treat lupus, Crohn’s Disease, colitis, and some forms of cancer. Oh, and it can also induce an abortion when used in conjunction with misoprostol.

Because of that, as the British Medical Journal recently reported, pharmacists in some of those states can now be prosecuted for filling those prescriptions, meaning that people who rely on methotrexate to live a normal life can no longer do so. And even if they CAN find a pharmacist who will fill it, many women and others with working uteruses may be scared to take it, because it can cause birth defects, so if they get pregnant while taking it they would be unable to abort a fetus that might end up horribly disfigured, even if it is unlikely to survive.

This is just the sort of thing that happens when states care more about controlling women’s bodies than they do about protecting vulnerable people. Who cares about those losers? I’m sure this anti-abortion law from 1880 is going to be just fine. Oh, did you think I’m being hyperbolic? People in Arizona are now subject to a law passed in 1864, according to Attorney General Mark Brnovich. That law predates Arizona’s own statehood and the United States officially deciding that black people shouldn’t be slaves, so that’s fun.

Ohio’s preexisting legislation determined that abortion would be restricted to six weeks or less, long before most people know they’re pregnant and a full four weeks before the embryo is even considered a fetus. It’s 5mm long and looks like a naked mole rat. There is no consideration for cases of rape or incest, so if you don’t immediately get a pregnancy test whether you’ve missed a period yet or not, you’re shit out of luck and will have to travel to another state if you don’t want to bear your rapist’s baby.

There was a bit of a to-do earlier this month when the Indiananpolis Star published an article about the people who began flooding across the Ohio-Indiana border to access basic reproductive healthcare within days of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. The article cited a local obstetrician-gynecologist who received a phone call from a child abuse doctor in Ohio who needed her help: he had a 10-year old patient who was six weeks and three days pregnant, meaning that she could not get an abortion in that state and would need to travel to Indiana, where at the time abortions were still legal up to 22 weeks (though Republican lawmakers are trying to pass more severe restrictions).

Let’s get a few things crystal clear: first of all, I shouldn’t have to say this but we live in a nightmarish dystopia so for the record, no ten-year old can consent to sex. Any ten-year old who is pregnant has been raped to get into that situation.

Second of all, this isn’t just about whether or not she morally should get an abortion or have the baby and put it up for adoption. A ten-year old simply does not have the ability to safely carry a baby for nine months, and she absolutely cannot safely give birth. You may know that women tend to have wider hips than men, but in fact we all have about the same width of pelvis up until puberty. When we hit puberty, male pelvises tend to continue growing at the same rate while female hormones lead the pelvis to begin widening in a more dramatic fashion. This is not an immediate process, and in fact researchers have found that most women won’t reach their full pelvis-width until they’re 25 to 30. That’s ten to twenty years of development to get to the point where the pelvis is less likely to present a problem birthing a fully developed baby. A ten-year old girl has absolutely no chance.

So not only did the US Supreme Court and Ohio legislators decide that a woman should be forced to carry and give birth to her rapist’s child, but they decided a 10-year old girl should do so at significant risk to her own health. There’s a vague exemption for allowing abortion when it presents a clear risk to the life of the mother, but in this case doctors were worried that it wouldn’t apply because, well, ten year olds have given birth and lived before.

If you find it appalling, disgusting, unthinkable that a collection of mostly older men would force a 10-year old to go through this after she’s already been raped, you’re not alone. It’s bad enough that any person should be forced to gestate a human against their will, especially in a country that already mandates that you can’t remove a healthy organ from a corpse that doesn’t need it without that corpse’s prior approval. But a 10-year old rape victim? Surely we can all agree that that’s not okay.

Your choice then becomes this: either accept that we can NOT all agree that that’s not okay, or insist that this story simply cannot be true. A LOT of people defaulted to that second bit: some of them because they couldn’t bear the truth, and others because they are the actual old white men who caused this to happen and they don’t want you to know about it, like Ohio Republican Representative Jim Jordan, formerly famous for coaching a wrestling team that said he stood by and did nothing while the team’s physician sexually abused them.

Glenn Kessler over at The Washington Post helped carry some water for those guys, posting a “fact check” of the story of the 10-year old rape victim. Kessler complained that the quoted OB/GYN is the only source, that he was unable to confirm that there was a police report about a 10-year old being raped, and that “an abortion of a 10-year-old is pretty rare,” so the story is impossible to confirm.

Let’s take those in order: the doctor was the only source, but that’s the way it is when we are talking about private medical data. Laws protect us as individuals from reporters, politicians, or others from accessing information about medical procedures we’ve had or are having done. The law is especially strict regarding children, which this rape victim, I will remind you, is. Which brings us to our next point: Kessler couldn’t find a police report to confirm that a 10-year old had been raped in Ohio.

First of all, AGAIN, a pregnant 10-year old has in fact been raped. That’s not just my opinion,  but the opinion of every legislature in every state: an unmarried 10-year old cannot consent. I have to say “unmarried” here because, again, we live in a horrific dystopia and nine states (including my own) do not set a minimum age for marriage, only requiring parental and/or judicial approval, and federal law states that statutory rape doesn’t count if the rapist is married to their victim.

But, yes, this unmarried 10-year old girl was raped, whether a police report was filed or not.

That said, a police report WAS filed, by the girl’s parent immediately after she learned of the rape. The Ohio Capital Journal contacted just the Columbus, Ohio police department and immediately learned that since March 15, 2022 there have been “59 reports of sexual assaults of girls 15 and younger that, based on the information available, could have resulted in pregnancy. At least one involved a 10-year-old victim.”

Just a few days later, the Columbus Dispatch confirmed that a 27-year old man had been arrested for raping a 10-year old girl, resulting in her falling pregnant.

Finally, Kessler argued that an abortion of a 10-year old is “pretty rare,” which is interesting because he immediately follows that statement with “The Columbus Dispatch reported that in 2020, 52 people under the age of 15 received an abortion in Ohio.” “Rare” is a relative term, but if you ask me, one child getting an abortion EVERY WEEK in just ONE CITY in Ohio doesn’t exactly qualify. I would call that “frequent,” and “fucked up,” and “what the fuck is wrong with you that you think that’s rare,” and finally “why the fuck would it matter if it’s rare anyway, if it can happen once than it can happen again, you worthless bucket of turds.”

It’s disgusting that this was published in any newspaper at all, let alone the Washington Post, but we are currently living in, again, a nightmarish dystopia, so of course our most respected newspapers are helping alt-right misogynistic theocrats cover up the fact that they have zero empathy or respect for women’s bodily autonomy, to the point that they would literally sacrifice a child to maintain their power. I hope the people of Ohio are able to see past the obfuscation and the lies to vote these pieces of shit out of office and fix this to try to protect next year’s fifth grade class.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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