Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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A 10-year-old-girl was raped and became pregnant as a result of that violence. That child, six weeks and three days into an unwanted pregnancy, then had to travel from Ohio to neighboring Indiana to receive abortion care after a six-week ban went into effect in her state following the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Two weeks after the story made headlines, a Columbus man, who is reportedly undocumented, was arrested and charged with the girl’s rape. Meanwhile, the Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita threatened the doctor who provided the abortion with criminal charges, even though it has since come to light that she complied with required reporting to the state. 

It’s hard to think of a case that better encapsulates—and warns about—the devastating impact of doing away with a constitutional right to abortion and restricting access to reproductive care. But Republicans took a different perspective, eagerly running with claims that a very real, very sad story was a fabricated lie. And when that didn’t hold water, they switched to a favorite form of demagoguery: hating on immigrants. 

The Columbus police arrested 27-year-old local resident Gershon Fuentes after he confessed to raping the child on at least two occasions, according to the Columbus Dispatch. As I wrote earlier this week:

The case was first reported by the Indianapolis Star in a July 1 article quoting Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an Indianapolis obstetrician-gynecologist. She said she had learned from a colleague in Ohio about a 10-year-old who was six weeks and three days pregnant. Ohio’s law bans abortions after six weeks with no exceptions for rape or incest.

The story immediately went viral. And it led to appalling responses. South Dakota’s Governor Kristi Noem suggested a child in a similar situation in her state might be forced to carry the baby to term.

The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial board cast doubt on the existence of the girl. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said it was “likely that this is a fabrication,” only to issue a statement after news of the arrest broke saying “we rejoice anytime a child rapist is taken off the streets.” 

Rep. Jim Jordan was quick to refer to the case as “another lie,” but by Wednesday he had deleted the post and declared that Fuentes “should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”  When asked about the deleted tweet, Jordan said he had done so because “we learned that this illegal alien did this heinous crime.” Asserting that he had never doubted the girl, Jordan went on to say: “I doubted Joe Biden, which is usually a smart thing to do.” 

Jordan wasn’t alone in trying to weaponize the apparent immigration status of the suspected rapist as a way to divert attention from the searing child tragedy at hand. “Where’s the conversation about an illegal person doing this?” Rep. Roger Williams of Texas said. “How do you defend this? How do you defend this guy who came over illegally, and we’ve got 5 million of them over here?” 

One of the most extreme responses came from Jim Bopp, an Indiana lawyer and general counsel for the National Right to Life who crafted model legislation ahead of the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade and paving the way for stricter abortion bans. “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,” Bopp told Politico. “The bill does propose exceptions for rape and incest, in my model, because that is a pro-life position, but it’s not our ideal position. We don’t think, as heart-wrenching as those circumstances are, we don’t think we should devalue the life of the baby because of the sins of the father.”

Other Republicans, however, appear to be less sure about how they feel or even surprised that a 10-year-old could, biologically, get pregnant. “I’m amazed a 10-year-old got pregnant. … You really wrestle with that,” said Rep. Bob Gibbs of Ohio, according to NBC News. “That’s a tough one.” Arizona’s Rep. Debbie Lesko said, “I don’t think I was even able to have children when I was 10 years old” and acknowledged that she struggled with the “moral question” of the case.

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