A Columbus man has been charged with impregnating a 10-year-old Ohio girl, whose travel to Indiana to seek an abortion led to international attention following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade and activation of Ohio’s abortion law.
Gershon Fuentes, 27, whose last known address was an apartment on Columbus’ Northwest Side, was arrested Tuesday after police say he confessed to raping the child on at least two occasions. He’s since been charged with rape, a felony of the first degree in Ohio.
Columbus police were made aware of the girl’s pregnancy through a referral by Franklin County Children Services that was made by her mother on June 22, Det. Jeffrey Huhn testified Wednesday morning at Fuentes’ arraignment. On June 30, the girl underwent a medical abortion in Indianapolis, Huhn said.
Huhn also testified that DNA from the clinic in Indianapolis is being tested against samples from Fuentes, as well as the child’s siblings, to confirm contribution to the aborted fetus.
10-year-old girl’s abortion:Ohio AG Dave Yost cast doubt on 10-year-old rape victim case, now ‘rejoices” at arrest
Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Cynthia Ebner said the case did not warrant Fuentes — who is believed to be undocumented — to be held without bond.
Ebner said a high bond was necessary, however, due to Fuentes being a possible flight risk and for the safety of the child involved. Before being arrested, Huhn and Det. David Phillips collected a saliva sample from Fuentes, according to a probable cause statement.
Ebner set a $2 million bond for Fuentes, who is being held in the Franklin County jail.
Charges further confirm story that has become abortion debate flash point
The criminal charges and testimony from the Columbus detective further confirm the disturbing story that has become a key flash point in the national furor over the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The Indianapolis Star, a Gannett sister paper of The Dispatch, first reported earlier this month that a 10-year-old rape victim traveled from Ohio to Indiana for abortion services after most abortions became illegal in her home state. The account was attributed to Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an Indianapolis physician who provides abortion services.
The story quickly went viral, appearing in outlets across the globe, and became a top talking point for abortion rights supporters, including President Joe Biden.
“Imagine being that little girl,” Biden said Friday as he decried the high court’s decision. “I’m serious. Just imagine being that little girl.”
But in recent days, some abortion opponents, Republican politicians and news outlets had criticized the story as unproven.
Story was questioned by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost on Fox News
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost questioned the validity of the account during an appearance on Fox News this week.
Yost, a Republican, told Fox News host Jesse Watters that his office had not heard “a whisper” of a report being filed for the 10-year-old victim.
“We have regular contact with prosecutors and local police and sheriffs — not a whisper anywhere,” Yost said on the show.
Yost doubled down on that in an interview with the USA TODAY Network Ohio bureau on Tuesday, saying that the more time passed before confirmation made it “more likely that this is a fabrication.”
“I know the cops and prosecutors in this state,” Yost said. “There’s not one of them that wouldn’t be turning over every rock, looking for this guy and they would have charged him. They wouldn’t leave him loose on the streets … I’m not saying it could not have happened. What I’m saying to you is there is not a damn scintilla of evidence.”
On Wednesday, once news of the arraignment of the Columbus man accused in the child’s rape came, Yost issued a single sentence statement:
“We rejoice anytime a child rapist is taken off the streets.”
He later added that he’s “absolutely delighted that this monster has been taken off the street. If convicted, he should spend the rest of his life in prison.”
Hearing details investigation, concerns about suspect
During Wednesday’s hearing, Assistant Franklin County Prosecutor Dan Meyer requested Fuentes be held without bond. He said Fuentes is not believed to be in the country legally and there are questions about his identity.
Huhn testified that detectives spoke to Fuentes, through an interpreter, and Fuentes admitted to having sexual contact with the girl. An interpreter was also used during Wednesday’s hearing.
The 10-year-old also told police Fuentes was the father of the pregnancy, Huhn testified. Meyer said the girl had just turned 10 recently, meaning she was likely impregnated at 9 years old.
Clark Torbett, an attorney with the Franklin County Public Defender’s office, said it was unconstitutional to hold Fuentes without bond, especially with DNA confirmation of the pregnancy’s father still pending.
He said Fuentes had lived in Columbus for the last seven years and had a steady job at a café. He also had an address where he could live that was not at the same location as the 10-year-old.
If convicted, Fuentes would face a potential life sentence in prison.
Data shows frequency of reports of sexual abuse of children
An analysis of Columbus police reports filed since May 9 found 50 reports of rape or sexual abuse involving girls 15 years or younger. That number of reports may also be underreported because of restrictions on public records related to reports initiated by mandated reporters. The report involving the 10-year-old girl falls into that category.
In 2020, there were 52 abortions in children 15 or younger in Ohio, accounting for 0.3% of the 20,605 abortions performed that year, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Data from the health department shows there were 63 such procedures in 2019, 54 in 2018, 61 in 2017 and 76 in 2016.
Data from 2021 is not yet available.
Indiana lawmakers expected to enact abortion ban
The ability of Ohio residents to seek abortion services in Indiana could soon be curtailed.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, has called a special legislative session that is scheduled to convene on July 25. Republicans, who hold supermajorities in both chambers of the Indiana General Assembly, have pledged to enact new abortion restrictions.
Legislative leaders have been tight-lipped about what the legislation will look like. They haven’t said whether their abortion proposal will allow for exemptions for rape, incest or life of the pregnant person, or at what point in a pregnancy they’ll ban abortion.
Reporters asked Holcomb about the case of the 10-year-old rape survivor on Tuesday. He called it a “horrific example,” but declined to say whether he was comfortable banning abortions in cases involving young rape victims.
“I am reserving comment until we see a bill,” he said.
Will Ohio Republicans ban nearly all abortions? Can anyone stop it?
A ban on nearly all abortions in Ohio is likely coming.
Ohio’s GOP-controlled General Assembly is expected to ban abortions even earlier than the current six-week ban, with no exceptions for victims of rape or incest.
Lawmakers are still crafting language on when abortions would be banned, but past proposals barred the procedure after fertilization, which could prohibit some birth control.
Republicans, who hold veto-proof majorities in the Ohio House and Senate, have the votes to pass such a ban without any Democratic support.
Dispatch reporters Laura Bischoff and Eric Lagatta contributed to this story.
Bethany Bruner covers crime and public safety for the Columbus Dispatch.
Monroe Trombly covers breaking and trending news for The Columbus Dispatch.