The New York Times found in Texas state records that just in 2021, more than 200 children (defined as 15 and younger) got abortions. One was 11 or younger, and 30 were 12 or 13 years old.
Multiply these numbers by 50 states, and you’re in the thousands—4,460 in 2017, according to the most recent numbers available—and every one of them is a child spared the trauma of carrying a pregnancy to term.
With the Supreme Court’s blessing, lawmakers in Red America persist in their rush to further limit abortion, and to punish those complicit in providing abortion care. Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita is threatening to pull the license of the doctor who performed the abortion on the 10-year-old Ohio girl who’d been raped. He called her an “abortion activist posing as a doctor.”
Anti-abortion extremists are adamant about seeing every pregnancy through to term, however horrific the circumstances, be it rape or incest. At the same time the GOP is all worked up over elementary school teachers “grooming” children.
How can conservatives be so dismissive of a young rape victim unless, of course, this is more about raw politics than health care or education?
“That word ‘grooming’ has been used as a tool to create hysteria and to create a social panic,” Kristen Mark, a professor in sexual education at the University of Minnesota Medical School, told The Daily Beast. “It’s a loaded term, and to be used in that context, it’s frankly inaccurate.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis jumped aboard the anti-grooming bandwagon after Democrats dubbed a GOP-authored bill as the “don’t say gay” law because it bans any discussion of gender and sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade. DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw pushed back, saying the legislation “would be more accurately described as an Anti-Grooming bill.” A term indicating sexual abuse would now be attached to elementary school teachers and administrators and school boards to imply they are actively courting children to adopt gay, lesbian or trans identities.
“There’s a lot of fear around kids learning (sexual) information,” says Mark. “Kids and adolescents have always been kept away, but today they have the internet, and they’re getting information. It’s medically accurate information that’s become a political issue.”
Republicans would rather talk about grooming, a wildly exaggerated allegation, than about the real-life implications of the 10-year-old Ohio rape victim at the center of the debate. (And they definitely would rather talk about the accused rapist’s status as an undocumented immigrant.)
The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) bills itself as the oldest and largest national anti-abortion organization. This is the statement its president, Carol Tobias, sent when asked about the child’s abortion:
“No child should ever go through such tragic abuse as was reportedly perpetrated on this girl by a criminal in this country illegally. Those who commit such crimes should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Not only has a child been abused in one of the worst ways imaginable, this has also cost another child their life.”
Rape is an incredibly important issue, “but it’s a distraction,” says Mark. “The hypocrisy is striking.” The issue is whether a 10-year-old should be forced to carry her rapist’s baby.
Extremism is what unites these two issues of child abortion and grooming, says William Galston, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution.
“Republicans are being pushed by their activists to dramatically overshoot the center of gravity,” with more calls for statewide bans and even a federal ban on abortion, Galston told The Daily Beast. He added that parents should be concerned about what their children are taught about gender identity and sexual orientation, and at what age. “If you make that point in a reasonable way, you get attention. But pedophiliac grooming really jumps the shark.”
Chris Rufo is a senior fellow at the right-leaning Manhattan Institute where he leads the fight against Critical Race Theory—which he has helped make a catchall term for anything pertaining to antiracism or other “divisive topics,” and which has spurred many laws banning the teaching of “divisive topics,” as a result.
Asked if he thinks allegations that public schools are “grooming” children are an accurate use of the term, and how a political party that professes to care about children can defend a position that requires a child to give birth while still a child, he responded in an email:
“This is a simple case. Grooming children for sexual abuse in public schools is wrong; committing sexual abuse against children in the home is also wrong. In Ohio, the story appears to be that a man living with the mother of the 10-year-old girl groomed and then raped the child, resulting in pregnancy. This is a moral horror and, if he is found guilty, he should be subjected to the most extreme punishment allowed under the law. As to the question about abortion, the state attorney general has confirmed publicly that an abortion would have been permitted under Ohio law. I agree with that position. In states that choose to limit abortion, there should be exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother. I believe that, if the man was indeed a stepfather figure in this case, it would meet the standard for all three exemptions simultaneously.”
Rufo makes some good points, but this is not a simple case as he defines it.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, who initially cast doubt on the truthfulness of the 10-year-old’s story, is now furiously spinning the facts to make the state’s “heartbeat law” look less draconian.
It bans abortion after six weeks. The girl was six weeks and three days pregnant, and Ohio doctors feared prosecution. An emergency provision allows an abortion if there’s a medically diagnosed condition threatening the life of the mother. No doctor was willing to test if the girl’s young age met that qualification, however much an anti-abortion attorney general wants to claim the provision as a life raft in a sea of confusion for doctors and their patients navigating the brutal new reality of abortion access and care.
David Finkelour is a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire and director of the Crimes against Children Research Center. The common theme, as he sees it, is that the changes in modern life and sexual norms and behavior are threatening to some people “and they want the imposition of bright lines particularly from nostalgic moral standards to re-establish order.”
“Removing all abortion from consideration feels like a way to return to a time when fear of pregnancy stifled sexual license. Wild accusations of pedophilia and grooming feel like a way to scare anyone from talking with children about sex except to say that it is evil and corrupting. So they are in some ways both trying to restore a condition of imagined sexual innocence to children with some very crude tools.”
Should the state force a 10-year-old to give birth to her rapist’s child is a question that no Republican wants to answer. If the answer is yes, they’ll face a furious backlash, even from anti-abortion activists, who can dodge the issue. If the answer is no, then they’ll hear from the extremists who want all loopholes closed.
Better to focus on made-up crises like CRT and “grooming,” than to face up to the abortion care crisis that is now a feature of American life.