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[Content warning: This post discusses the sexual assault of a child.]

“Another lie,” U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) tweeted.

“An abortion story too good to confirm,” a Wall Street Journal editorial headline blared

“[Are] the mainstream media and president of the United States seizing on another hoax?” Fox News host Jesse Watters leered

The story in question is that of a 10-year-old Ohio girl whose sexual assault resulted in a pregnancy. Because Ohio law bans abortion at six weeks — a ban that went into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court took away the federal constitutional right to abortion — the girl was forced  to cross state lines to end an inherently high-risk pregnancy. 

A July 13 arrest of a suspect in the assault, reported by an Ohio newspaper, revealed that the story was no lie or hoax, but very much real.  

For days before that arrest, anti-abortion rights institutions and officials — from Fox News and other right-wing media outlets to politicians such as Ohio attorney general Dave Yost — depicted the reported rape as a hoax. This isn’t just repulsive; it also illustrates how abortion- rights opponents, to get what they want, rely on falsehoods, fictions, and a flagrant disregard for truth.

Driven by Disinformation

When facts inconvenience abortion opponents, their all-too-eager reflex is to lie. That instinct has been on display this month during hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives, where an anti-abortion witness bizarrely insisted that the termination of a pregnancy — if a 10 year old were pregnant as a result of rape — would not be an abortion:

Not content to merely prevaricate about abortion, anti-abortion rights politicians and organizations have called for restrictions on IUDs and emergency contraception — even drafting state legislation intended to limit access to these common methods of birth control. Politicians in Missouri, Idaho, and Louisiana have proposed legislation that would outlaw emergency contraception and IUDs. 

How do politicians and activists justify these attacks on reproductive freedom? By erroneously describing emergency contraception and IUDs as “abortifacients.” An abortifacient is a drug, such as the abortion pill, that ends a pregnancy by working after a pregnancy happens. IUDs and emergency contraception are birth control methods designed to prevent pregnancy. Abortion opponents misuse the word “abortifacient” to advance their real agenda: to ban both abortion and birth control.

Denying Responsibility for Cruel Outcomes

Abortion opponents shift between denying truths — e.g., a child rape — and embracing falsehoods to drive toward the outcome they want: control of others’ bodies, no matter who gets hurt. 

Some who called the story of the Ohio rape survivor into question had reason to know that such a case was plausible — because they knew that such cases have happened before. Planned Parenthood senior director for news content Kate Smith, who worked in journalism before coming to Planned Parenthood, shared a 2019 comment by Ohio attorney general Dave Yost about a past case:

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“Sometimes, the evolution of the law requires bold steps,” Yost said three years ago, in defense of a 6-week abortion ban with no exceptions that might offer relief to an 11-year-old rape survivor. This past week, Yost painted the same ban as no bold step at all — insisting falsely, after President Biden mentioned the 10-year-old rape survivor during a White House event, that the girl could have easily obtained a legal abortion in post-Roe Ohio.

In 2020 alone, the Columbus Dispatch reported, 52 people under the age of 15 obtained abortions in Ohio. Yost’s disregard for the truth represents a total disregard for those patients — and a disavowal of the cruelty that he, and other anti-abortion politicians, have visited on a 10-year-old girl.

In that disregard, Yost hardly stands alone. His attitude reflects an anti-abortion movement that, as feminist writer Jill Filipovic wrote this month, “has radically redefined reality” to serve its political goals. “When we're looking around wondering how we got to this point of total conservative divorce from reality,” Filipovic continued, “look to the role played by the anti-abortion movement.

People can see the role of the anti-abortion movement — and the results of its work — in the ordeal of a 10-year-old girl driven out of state to seek an abortion. And they also see, in this case, what abortion opponents want: a United States where, as the general counsel of “National Right to Life” explained to a reporter with surprising candor, people such as a 10-year-old rape survivor “would understand the reason and ultimately the benefit of having the child.” 

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