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14 July 2022

Republicans will call rape a hoax if it stops an abortion

The case of a ten-year-old in Ohio has blown up in conservatives’ face.

By Eoin Higgins

When news broke this month that a ten-year-old girl in Columbus, Ohio, was forced to travel to Indiana for an abortion after being raped, right-wing politicians and media personalities went into overdrive to discredit the report. Now that there’s been an arrest, however, conservatives have moved on to attacking the doctor who performed the medical procedure, in a way that is reminiscent of the targeting of George Tiller, a Kansas doctor who was murdered in 2009 by the anti-choice extremist Scott Roeder.

On Wednesday police announced the arrest of Gerson Fuentes, 27, for the rape of the girl. Right-wing commentators pivoted to questioning how they could have got it so wrong – and decided that the child’s doctors were at fault.

It’s worth noting just how unhinged and incorrect the right was about the case. The National Review’s Michael Brendan Dougherty, who once tweeted that he’d prefer his children to be raped by Jesuit priests than taught by them, wondered if the left was “making up a fictive abortion and a fictive rape [as] a way of drawing attention to the way abortion has been used to cover up statutory rape for all these years”. The Fox News host Emily Compagno said she found it “deeply offensive” that “they had to make up a fake one”. The network’s Jesse Watters described the report as a “hoax” on his primetime show. Watters also hosted Ohio’s Republican attorney-general, Dave Yost, who called the story a “fabrication” and said that there was “not a damn scintilla of evidence” behind it. In reality, police in Columbus had been alerted to the assault in June, which Yost, given his position, could have easily found out. 

The Wall Street Journal also got it wrong, correcting the record Thursday in an opinion piece that led with “it appears President Biden was accurate” when he mentioned the case last week. The paper made sure to scold the original reporters, somehow blaming them for errors by right-wing pundits: “The country needs to find a rough consensus on abortion now that it has returned to the states and the political process. One way to help is to make sure that stories about abortion, from either side of the debate, can be readily confirmed.”

The inability of conservatives to admit fault without finding someone else to shoulder at least half of the blame probably provided the impetus for Indiana’s Republican attorney-general, Todd Rokita, to tell Fox News on Wednesday night that the state was investigating Caitlin Bernard, the doctor who cared for the girl, to see if she reported the child’s condition to authorities. “We’re gathering the evidence as we speak, and we’re going to fight this to the end, including looking at her licensure if she failed to report,” Rokita told Watters. 

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Watters made sure to feature a photo of Bernard during the segment, a choice that brought back memories of the way the Fox host Bill O’Reilly targeted Tiller. The focus on Bernard is hard to see as anything other than a way for the right to retroactively explain away trivialising the rape of a child – consequences be damned.

[See also: Has Joe Biden saved abortion?]

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