On Saturday, Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler threw cold water on President Biden’s latest abortion talking point about the reversal of Roe v. Wade forcing a 10-year-old rape victim to travel out of state to get an abortion.
According to Kessler, who has a history of being soft on Biden, the president’s story is “very difficult” to verify.
Kessler’s analysis piece began with a claim Biden made during his Friday speech announcing an executive order he signed to protect abortions in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.
Biden recounted how “Just last week, it was reported that a 10-year-old girl was a rape victim — 10 years old — and she was forced to have to travel out of state to Indiana to seek to terminate the pregnancy and maybe save her life.”
The fact-checker declared his skepticism that this claim met journalistic standards. “This is the account of a one-source story that quickly went viral around the world — and into the talking points of the president,” he wrote, seemingly doubtful of its certainty.
Kessler began by outlining, “The Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, which had guaranteed a right to abortion, has led a number of states to quickly impose new laws to restrict or limit abortions. Ohio was one of the first, imposing a ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape and incest.”
He then explained that the story about the 10-year-old rape victim originated in a July 1 Indianapolis Star article titled, “Patients head to Indiana for abortion services as other states restrict care.”
The article mentioned how Indianapolis obstetrician-gynecologist, Caitlan Barnard “received a call from ‘a child abuse doctor’ in Ohio who had a 10-year-old patient who was six weeks and three days pregnant.” The Star reported that the child “was on her way to Indiana to Bernard’s care.”
Though as Kessler pointed out, “The only source cited for the anecdote was Bernard. She’s on the record, but there is no indication that the newspaper made other attempts to confirm her account.” When asked to verify her reporting, the piece’s author, Shari Rudavksy, “did not respond.”
The only support the story received was from a spokesman for Bro Krift, the paper’s executive editor, who wrote, “The facts and sourcing about people crossing state lines into Indiana, including the 10-year-old girl, for abortions are clear. We have no additional comment at this time.”
Kessler then mentioned how that one flimsy claim made its way into headlines around the world. “The story quickly caught fire, becoming a headline in newspapers around the world. News organizations increasingly ‘aggregate’ — or repackage — reporting from elsewhere if it appears of interest to readers. So Bernard remained the only source.”
Kessler made the additional point that “Under Ohio law, a physician, as a mandated reporter under Ohio Revised Code 2151.421, would be required to report any case of known or suspected physical, sexual or emotional abuse or neglect of a child.” Whether such a report to law enforcement was ever made remains unclear, and as noted by Kessler, Governor Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, press secretary Dan Tierney was “unaware of any specific case.”
Kessler claimed, “As a spot check, we contacted child services agencies in some of Ohio’s most populous cities, including Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton and Toledo. None of the officials we reached were aware of such a case in their areas.”
Kessler concluded his analysis by giving his “Bottom Line.” He wrote, “This is a very difficult story to check. Bernard is on the record, but obtaining documents or other confirmation is all but impossible without details that would identify the locality where the rape occurred.”
Although Kessler made it clear that the story is unverifiable, he didn’t protest too much that President Biden used it for emotional effect in his latest speech. “With news reports around the globe and now a presidential imprimatur, however, the story has acquired the status of a ‘fact’ no matter its provenance. If a rapist is ever charged, the fact finally would have more solid grounding,” he declared, almost resigned to the fact that it’s now part of the narrative.
The Spectator contributing editor Stephen L. Miller criticized Kessler’s “Bottom Line” on Twitter, writing, “Glenn Kessler’s definition of fact is if enough news outlets repeat something enough, it acquires a factual status regardless of evidence.”