The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

A Story Too Good to Check?

Posted on | July 4, 2022 | 2 Comments

This headline appeared Friday in the Columbus Dispatch:

As Ohio restricts abortions, 10-year-old
girl travels to Indiana for procedure

On Monday three days after the Supreme Court issued its groundbreaking decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an Indianapolis obstetrician-gynecologist, took a call from a colleague, a child abuse doctor in Ohio.
Hours after the Supreme Court action, the Buckeye state had outlawed any abortion after six weeks. Now this doctor had a 10-year-old patient in the office who was six weeks and three days pregnant.
Could Bernard help? . . .

This story has since been repeated all over the place (e.g., “‘A tragic situation’: Governor discusses pregnant 10-year-old with CNN host”), but having read through the original story twice with an editor’s eye, my question is: Where’s the comment from police?

Even if you’re willing to take Dr. Caitlin Bernard’s word for the basic claim — while some 10-year-olds are physically capable of getting pregnant, such cases are very rare — you’ve left the reader knowing nothing about the most basic elements of the story: What Ohio city did this happen in? Do authorities have a suspect in custody? Or is the public still in danger from the child rapist responsible for this atrocity?

The extreme youth of the alleged victim is what made the headline so shocking, and I actually checked the National Institutes of Health to make sure I wasn’t alone in finding this highly unusual. The median age of menarche (i.e., onset of menstruation, generally taken as meaning when a female becomes physically capable of pregnancy) in the United States is 11.9, about three months earlier than in the 1990s. About 10% of females reach menarche by age 10. Precocious puberty is slightly correlated with earlier sexual activity — the median age of first intercourse is 15.4 for girls reaching menache by age 10, compared to 16.6 for girls reaching menarche at age 14 or older. In general, blacks and Hispanics reach menarche earlier than white girls, but the differences are not dramatic.

Still, a 10-year-old girl getting pregnant is rare enough in the United States that I had difficulty finding any statistical data on the phenomenon. When you’re talking about something with far less than a 1% probability, good luck finding reliable data. What I was able to find was a 2008 NBC News story reporting that only 17.4% of U.S. abortions involved women under 20. So what were the chances, really, that Dr. Bernard’s Indianapolis clinic would be dealing with the case of a pregnant 10-year-old from Ohio at the very time that the Supreme Court’s ruling made this case relevant to Ohio’s abortion laws?

I don’t trust this kind of “just so” anecdote anchoring a story like this, especially when there is nothing else about the case reported in the story. While I’m not willing to go so far as to call it “fake news,” my editor’s eye immediately noticed the omission of any corroborating details. If a 10-year-old is pregnant, a crime has been committed, and the reader naturally expects such a story to include some comment from law enforcement officials where this crime occurred.

We don’t have that here. Of course, Dr. Bernard would cite medical confidentiality as a reason not to release information about the patient — except the age, because that makes for a good headline — but no reporter should accept this tale without corroborating information.

What this story reminds me of is Curry College in Massachusetts, where it was reported that swastikas were found on campus “directed at black individuals.” Six months later, the college reported:

The College carefully reviewed evidence gathered by law enforcement and interviewed the person of interest identified by law enforcement investigators and other individuals who were potentially connected to specific incidents. The outcome of our independent investigation has resulted in an employee being terminated and removed from our community. The College’s Statement on Non-Discrimination requires confidentiality related to investigations. Therefore, this is the only information we can provide at this time.

So, the former college employee who perpetrated this alleged hate crime is protected by school policy? You can’t even tell us anything which might confirm or contradict our suspicion that the whole thing was a hoax? How convenient, just like the similar confidentiality policy that Dr. Bernard would likely cite as why she can’t tell us anything else about this 10-year-old sex crime victim except that (a) she was 10, (b) she was from Ohio, and (c) she was more than six weeks pregnant in a state that recently outlawed abortion past six weeks gestation.

Nothing to see here, folks. Just another tiny example of how the news media are slowly destroying their own credibility.



2 Responses to “A Story Too Good to Check?”

  1. HOAX? Biden Repeats Unverified Story About 10-Year-Old Ohio Girl’s Abortion : The Other McCain
    July 8th, 2022 @ 5:26 pm

    […] I called attention to this story (“A Story Too Good to Check?”) about an Indiana abortion doctor who claimed that, just three days after the Supreme Court […]

  2. The Future Democratic Voters Project and the 10-Year-Old Ohio Rape Victim : The Other McCain
    July 15th, 2022 @ 5:13 pm

    […] who knows how long before the pregnancy occurred. And, as I said in my first post on this subject (“A Story Too Good to Check?” July 4), I actually did some […]