How the rape of a young girl in Ohio became a flashpoint on the abortion debate

It is a case that has drawn national attention, a 10-year-old raped in Ohio was told by her doctor she could not have her pregnancy terminated because it would break the state’s six-week abortion ban. She had the procedure in Indiana, where it is still legal. But the story has been questioned by conservatives. Dr. Katie McHugh, an OBGYN based in Indianapolis, joins Stephanie Sy to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is a case that is drawn national attention, a 10-year-old girl raped in Ohio, after which her doctor said they could not terminate the pregnancy because it would break the state's ban on abortion after six weeks.

    The doctor referred her to a provider in Indiana, where the procedure was still legal.

    Our Stephanie Sy has the story.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    The Indianapolis Star broke the story earlier this month, and President Biden mentioned it as he signed an executive order aimed at protecting reproductive rights.

  • President Joe Biden:

    Ten years old, 10 years old, raped, six weeks pregnant, already traumatized, was forced to travel to another state. Imagine being that little girl. Just — I'm serious. Just imagine being that little girl, 10 years old.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    But, soon, conservative media outlets started questioning whether the story was true, and Republican politician soon followed, claiming her story was fake news. That includes Ohio's attorney general, Dave Yost, in a FOX News interview on Monday.

  • Dave Yost, Ohio Attorney General:

    I know our prosecutors and cops in this state. There's not one of them that wouldn't be turning over every rock in their jurisdiction if they had the slightest hint that this had occurred there.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    But this did happen.

    Yesterday, law enforcement officials in Columbus charged a 27-year-old man with raping the girl. Yost responded with this statement: "We rejoice anytime a child rapist is taken off the streets."

    This disturbing case has raised questions overstate abortion laws going into effect after the overturning of Roe v. Wade and how the youngest victims could be impacted.

    I'm joined now by Dr. Katie McHugh, an OB-GYN based in Indianapolis.

    Dr. McHugh, thank you for joining the "NewsHour."

    I used the word victim, because we're actually talking about a girl who was 9 when she was raped and impregnated.

    How has that fact that she was denied access to abortion care, even though she was just a few days past that six-week mark, when abortion becomes illegal in Ohio, how has that brought home what is going on in the wake of the Supreme Court's reversal of Roe v. Wade?

  • Dr. Katie McHugh, Physicians For Reproductive Health:

    Thank you so much for having me on. And thank you for that question.

    This case of this poor girl coming out of Ohio over to Indiana is not unique. This is not the only time this has happened, nor will this happen — this be the only time this ever happens.

    We need to have abortion access, so that patients like her and other people have access to the health care that they need. Tragically, this is not uncommon. This is not an unusual circumstance. All of us who provide abortion care have stories like this one, where a preteen victim was sent to us for abortion services because of impregnation because of rape.

    This is tragic. This is indefensible, but this is why health care needs to be accessible for people. This is an example of how legislative and legal interference in patients' bodily autonomy and their decision to make their own choices for their bodies is so important and so important for us to protect this right.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Now, pregnancy always carries some inherent medical risks.

    I am curious whether, being so young, 10 years old, you would expect even more medical complications that could imperil the health of a child that young carrying a pregnancy all the way to term.

  • Dr. Katie McHugh:

    Great question.

    Younger patients have higher risks of multiple different medical conditions within pregnancy, everything from diabetes to high blood pressure, all the way to complications with delivery, like needing a C-Section simply because their bones and joints are not well developed enough yet for a vaginal birth.

    That doesn't even take into account the mental health implications for forcing pregnancy and parenthood on someone at such a young age.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And would there be medical risks or repercussions from having an abortion at that young of an age?

  • Dr. Katie McHugh:

    Especially at very early gestational ages, the risk of having an abortion is so, so low, as compared to continuing a pregnancy or continuing to delivery.

    Abortion is incredibly safe. It is well-studied. And it is a compassionate choice in many circumstances. For a patient like the one that we're discussing, abortion is a very safe alternative to an incredibly traumatic and very dangerous situation.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Now, the National Right to Life Council, Jim Bopp, said today about this 10-year-old girl that — quote — "She would have had the baby. And as many women who have had babies as a result of rape, we would hope that she would understand the reason and ultimately the benefit of having the child."

    So, Dr. McHugh, there are still vocal people who believe life begins at conception saying she should have had to carry the rapist's baby. What do you have to say to those people?

  • Dr. Katie McHugh:

    My feeling about that comment from the attorney is that I ask people to feel compassion for this person.

    This person is 10 years old. She is in the fourth grade. To ask a person to sacrifice their entire future to someone else's ideals, to someone else's value system is incomprehensible and the definition of inhumane.

    This person has her whole life in front of her. And I am so glad and grateful that she was able to get the medical care she deserved to be able to have that life back and to be a child.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Dr. Katie McHugh, an OB-GYN based in Indianapolis, thank you for joining the "NewsHour."

  • Dr. Katie McHugh:

    Thank you for having me.

Listen to this Segment