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.
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 confirm story that has become abortion debate flash point
The criminal charges and testimony from the Columbus detective confirms 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 and news outlets criticized the story as unproven.
The story was questioned by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost on Fox News
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost also 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 a Tuesday interview with the USA TODAY Network Ohio bureau, 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. And shame on the Indianapolis paper that ran this thing on a single source who has an obvious ax to grind.”
On Wednesday, once news of the arraignment came, Yost issued a single sentence statement:
“We rejoice anytime a child rapist is taken off the streets.”
Hearing details investigation, concerns about the 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 that Fuentes was the pregnancy’s father, 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 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 the 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 a person 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.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, in 2020, there were 52 abortions in children 15 or younger in Ohio, accounting for .3% of the 20,605 abortions performed that year. Data from the health department show there were 63 such procedures in 2019, 54 in 2018, 61 in 2017, and 76 in 2016.
Data from 2021 is not yet available.