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How do you make a 10-year-old disappear? It’s easier than it should be

America says it cares about its children most of all — and obviously doesn’t mean it

In the aftermath of a June 24 Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, five states will see ballot initiatives on abortion.
In the aftermath of a June 24 Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, five states will see ballot initiatives on abortion. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

I prayed for that 10-year-old child, raped and impregnated by a man who has confessed to the monstrous crime, a young girl who then had to travel from her home state to end that pregnancy.

Then, I prayed for America.

Just when you think things can’t get worse, that human nature couldn’t sink any lower, something happens to prove you wrong, to make you realize that the country is truly broken in ways that each day make the path to healing more difficult to imagine.

It is the case of the girl child who was quickly transformed from flesh and blood human being, used and abused by adults tasked to take care of her, to political cudgel, used and abused by a country that says it cares about its children most of all — and obviously doesn’t mean it.

If you cheered the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the constitutional protection for those seeking and providing abortions, this is the ultimate nightmare. It’s not the vision of a post-Roe world you want to present to the world, this story of a 10-year-old abandoned by the courts and the country’s health care system, a child many would have forced to bear a child conceived in violence, no matter the physical and emotional costs.

So, does that mean the most extreme foes of abortion rights have started to rethink the wisdom of their plans to enact ever harsher and stricter abortion bans in the states?

Of course not.

Instead, the narrative quickly shifted from stories of the indecisive giving birth and feeling vindicated by the choice forced upon them — to be sure, an occurrence that does happen — to a harsher alternative: Erase a 10-year-old, or worse, turn her into a weapon dreamed up by abortion rights activists and the party whose members overwhelmingly support that right.

For those with blinders on, softening an anti-abortion stance might require compromise, which equals hypocrisy if you sincerely believe life begins at conception — no exceptions allowed. But that kind of compromise simply makes room for the complexity that is real life.

I can’t quite get over that Wall Street Journal headline on an article that has since been corrected, though with heaps of hedging. The editorial, which was published before a suspect in the crime was named, expressed doubts about the anecdote about the child, shared by President Joe Biden, and pointed out that he didn’t name the victim. It was titled “An Abortion Story Too Good to Confirm.”

To use the word “good” in any reference to the girl’s plight, even if you have doubts, means you’ve already moved from disbelief to picking sides, as in, concluding the only reason anyone would share the story is to score points.

In fact, while this case led the news, when the 10-year-old had to travel from her native Ohio to Indiana, which has, for now, more liberal abortion regulations, other young children have been and are in similar situations. According to the Ohio Department of Health, 52 girls under the age of 15 received an abortion in 2020, an average of one a week in just that state.

Those sobering statistics did not seem to move the attorney general of the state of Indiana, who, without proof or any facts on his side, wasted no time going after Dr. Caitlin Bernard, the doctor who, after satisfying every legal criterion, treated the child.

Attorney General Todd Rokita, a Republican, had time enough to appear on Fox News to say his office was investigating the Indiana OB/GYN, and, for his wrong-headed accusations, may be the subject of legal action. This week, an attorney for the doctor filed a notice of tort claim against Rokita on behalf of her client for “false and misleading statements.” If concern was ever a part of his equation, it swiftly turned into a chance to grandstand on cable TV. One wonders if there is enough real crime to investigate in Indiana.

Does a child have a chance when Jim Bopp, an Indiana lawyer and general counsel for the National Right to Life, makes clear his wish in a call with Politico: “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,” turning a 10-year-old into a woman just like that? That’s a transformation to contemplate when global health experts, in a recent New York Times report, listed the life-changing and sometimes life-ending dangers to mother and child when young girls become pregnant and give birth.

Can a child stand up to Catherine Glenn Foster, the president and CEO of Americans United for Life, telling Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., at a House Judiciary Committee hearing that her abortion wasn’t really an abortion, bending reality to ideological will?

More terrible scenarios are already showing up, from patients unable to get medication for illnesses and chronic conditions because effective drugs could also cause abortions, to a woman bleeding for 10 days after a miscarriage because doctors fear removing the fetal tissue.

Because practicing medicine and treating any patient is unpredictable, I expect situations few could imagine — followed by ever-shifting excuses and ingenious ways to diminish and deflect. 

After all, a lot of the adults in the room have already made a little girl disappear.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

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