A man from the US state has been charged with raping a 10-year-old girl whose case drew national attention following a doctor’s comments that the child had to travel to Indiana for an abortion, an account that had led some prominent Republicans — including Ohio’s attorney general and a congressman — to suggest it was fabricated.
President Joe Biden highlighted the case last week criticising the US Supreme Court decision eliminating a nationwide right to abortion.
Gerson Fuentes, 27, who was arrested on Tuesday, appeared in Franklin County, Ohio, municipal court for an arraignment on Wednesday. A police investigator testified at the hearing that Fuentes confessed to raping the girl at least twice.
The victim in the case underwent an abortion in neighboring Indiana on June 30, the officer testified.
The detective said DNA from the Indianapolis abortion clinic was being tested to confirm paternity.
A statewide ban on abortions in Ohio after the sixth week of pregnancy – before many women are aware they are pregnant – went into effect just hours after the Supreme Court’s June 24 ruling that struck down Roe v Wade, the 1973 decision that had established a constitutional right to abortion.
An Indianapolis physician who provides abortion services, Dr Caitlin Bernard, had told The Indianapolis Star that an abortion had been provided for such a child because the girl could not get the procedure in Ohio under a newly imposed state ban on abortions at the first detectable “fetal heartbeat”. The law does not include exceptions for rape or incest. A judge lifted a stay on the ban after the US Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v Wade.
Abortions after six weeks remain legal in Indiana, though the Republican-controlled state legislature is expected to consider new restrictions later this month.
Biden, a Democrat, spoke of the girl in remarks to reporters about abortion access.
“Just imagine being that little girl – 10 years old,” he said angrily at the White House on Friday.
Biden referenced the case as he signed an executive order to help secure abortion access and reproductive services for women.
He called on the Department of Justice to do “everything in their power to protect these women seeking to invoke their rights”.
Fuentes is being held on $2m bond and is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on July 22.
A court-appointed defence lawyer for Fuentes did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In all, 26 US states have either severely restricted abortions in the wake of the ruling or are expected to do so in the coming weeks and months.
Some conservatives had questioned the veracity of the Indianapolis Star story.
Republican Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost told the Fox News on Monday that a he had not heard a “whisper” from law enforcement about such a case. He told the USA TODAY Network Ohio bureau on Tuesday that the details were “more likely than not a fabrication” because there had been no arrest and no evidence uncovered, Ohio’s Columbus Dispatch reported.
“Another lie. Anyone surprised?” Republican US Representative Jim Jordan had also tweeted in reaction.
But in a statement on Wednesday after the arrest, Yost, who defended the state’s six-week ban in state court after the Supreme Court decision, said, “My heart aches for the pain suffered by this young child. I am grateful for the diligent work of the Columbus Police Department in securing a confession and getting a rapist off the street.”
Also on Wednesday, Jordan tweeted that the suspect “should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law”.