US man guilty of raping 9-year-old in Ohio gets life sentence

The victim had to travel outside her state to get a legal abortion after the Supreme Court overturned the right to the procedure.

Man in brown jumpsuit and handcuffs
Gerson Fuentes enters the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas in Columbus, Ohio, on July 28, 2022 [File: Paul Vernon/AP Photo]

A man in the United States accused of impregnating a 9-year-old girl, who then had to travel out of state for an abortion, has pleaded guilty to two counts of rape.

Gerson Fuentes, 28, was sentenced to life in prison on Wednesday in a county court in Columbus, Ohio. But, as part of his plea deal, Fuentes will be eligible to seek probation after serving 25 to 30 years. He will also have to register as a sex offender.

The case has become a flashpoint in the debate about abortion in the US. The girl’s story went viral in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade, which had previously protected abortion access under the Constitution’s right to privacy.

The girl, who turned 10 before having the abortion, confirmed that Fuentes attacked her. Fuentes also confessed to Columbus police detectives, and DNA testing of the aborted fetus confirmed Fuentes was the father, Franklin County prosecutors said.

They also noted they could not find any evidence that Fuentes was authorised to be in the country.

Fuentes, who is from Guatemala and was living in Columbus, had been held without bond since his arrest in July 2022. If he wins parole, he will likely be deported.

The case gained national attention after an Indiana physician, Caitlin Bernard, told the Indianapolis Star that a 10-year-old had travelled to her state in late June 2022 seeking abortion care.

After the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe, Ohio implemented a “fetal heartbeat” ban that restricted abortions after about six weeks. Bernard told the newspaper that the patient had been six weeks and three days pregnant.

The story was quickly picked up by advocates for abortion protections. President Joe Biden cited the case in a speech criticising the top court’s decision, prompting many Republicans to question whether the story was true.

“Ten years old — 10 years old! — raped, six weeks pregnant, already traumatised, was forced to travel to another state. Just imagine being that little girl,” Biden said at that time.

Fuentes’s arrest in Ohio a week later appeared to confirm the account.

In the year since Roe was revoked, approximately 25 states have banned the procedure including Indiana, though many of those laws are still being litigated.

Indiana’s state Medical Licensing Board voted in May to reprimand Bernard, finding that she violated patient privacy laws when she spoke to the newspaper, even though she did not directly reveal protected information like the child’s name or address.

The board, however, rejected accusations from Indiana’s Republican attorney general that Bernard violated state law by not reporting the child abuse to Indiana authorities. It also denied a request to suspend her medical licence.

Board members chose to fine Bernard $3,000 for the violations but issued no restrictions on her practice of medicine.

Source: Al Jazeera, The Associated Press