Indiana doctor says she’s been harassed since performing abortion on 10-year-old girl: NPR

Dr. Caitlin Bernard, the Indiana doctor who aborted a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio, speaks at a June abortion rights rally at the Indiana Statehouse.

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Dr. Caitlin Bernard, the Indiana doctor who aborted a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio, speaks at a June abortion rights rally at the Indiana Statehouse.

Jenna Watson/IndyStar/USA TODAY Network/Reuters

An Indiana doctor says she was harassed after the story of one of her patients – a 10-year-old girl from Ohio who became pregnant as a result of rape – drew the nation’s attention as a flashpoint in the abortion rights debate.

In the weeks since Roe vs. Wade was overthrown, Dr. Caitlin Bernard became a household name, with her face shown on right-wing television and her work criticized by officials, including Indiana Attorney GeneralTodd Rokita.

She worried for her own safety and that of her family, Bernard said Tuesday in an interview with NPR’s Sarah McCammon.

And she said the actions of Rokita, an anti-abortion Republican who called for an investigation into Bernard and suggested without providing evidence that she neglected to follow Indiana state reporting requirements for abortion providers, constituted “harassment”.

“Honestly, it’s been very difficult for me, for my family,” Bernard said. “It’s hard to understand why a political figure, a prominent figure in the state, would want to go after the doctors who help patients every day in their state.”

Yet when asked if she thought attacks on her by prominent conservatives would have a chilling effect on other abortion providers across the country, Bernard said it would do the opposite.

“What I’ve heard from my colleagues in Indiana and across the country is that we’ve been silent too long, we haven’t spoken enough,” she said. . “So, no. I don’t see it going to stop the doctors. I think it’s going to motivate them.”

The case of the 10-year-old girl

Bernard fell into the national spotlight after caring for a 10-year-old girl from Ohio who had been the victim of rape.

On June 24, the Supreme Court overturned decades of abortion rights precedent when it made its decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. More than a dozen so-called “trigger bans” restricting abortion have gone into effect across the country – including in Ohio, where nearly all abortions after six weeks are banned, even in cases of rape and incest.

Shortly after, the girl’s family discovered that she was pregnant. They crossed state lines to Indiana, where abortion remained legal. Bernard administered the girl’s medical abortion.

The story generated widespread attention and controversy after Bernard told the Indianapolis Star on his patient. The fate of the girl was cited by President Biden as an example of the fallout from Dobbs.

Prominent conservatives have questioned the story, including the Ohio Attorney General and the the wall street journal editorial board – until a 27-year-old man was accused of raping the girl.

In Tuesday’s interview with NPR, Bernard declined to comment on the 10-year-old’s case, citing patient confidentiality laws. But child sexual abuse is not uncommon, she said.

“Every OB-GYN can tell you the youngest patient they’ve cared for, whether it’s providing abortion care or delivering their baby,” she said.

Bernard wouldn’t say whether she regretted speaking publicly about the 10-year-old, or if she would have handled it differently had she known the story would have become such a political flashpoint.

But she said she received a “tremendous outpouring” of support from medical professionals in Indiana and across the country.

“I think people realize how important our voice as physicians as advocates for access to care can be. I hope it’s inspiring and not deterrent,” she said.

A legal dispute with the Indiana Attorney General

After the 10-year-old’s story caught the attention of advocates on both sides of the abortion debate, Rokita called for an investigation into Bernard.

Indiana’s Republican attorney general claimed — without providing evidence — that Bernard had a history of disregarding state reporting requirements for abortion providers.

Then Indiana health officials released a document stating that she had indeed reported providing a medical abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim in the days following the Dobbs decision allowed Ohio’s abortion ban to take effect.

Bernard threatened to sue Rokita for defamation. Last week, his attorney sent a notice to Rokita’s office, an important step that lays the groundwork for a potential trial under Indiana law.

In a statement provided to NPR, Rokita criticized Bernard’s decision to bring the 10-year-old’s case to the media’s attention. He vowed to conduct his investigation “through to the end”.

“The recent tort complaint is not only an attempt to distract, but it is also an attempt to intimidate, impede and halt my office’s monumental progress in saving lives,” Rokita said. . “It will take a lot more to intimidate us.”

Bernard said Tuesday that she has yet to decide whether or not to pursue a libel suit. Rokita’s office has not contacted Bernard about her investigation, she said.

“One of us is the state’s attorney general, and one of us is a doctor — and it’s very clear who’s being bullied in this situation,” Bernard said. “I will continue to provide access to safe legal care to the best of my ability, and I cannot say what it will do.”

“I think it’s important for us as providers to feel safe working in the state of Indiana. I think it’s important for doctors to know that when they follow the law and when caring for patients in need of care, they can do so free from persecution, free from harassment,” she continued.

Abortion rights protesters at the Indiana State Capitol building on Monday.

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Abortion rights protesters at the Indiana State Capitol building on Monday.

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In Indiana, where Bernard works, most abortions may soon be banned

For now, abortions remain legal in Indiana. The state currently allows abortion up to 20 weeks after fertilization, although women wanting the procedure should be counseled in person and then wait at least 18 hours.

But that access may soon end.

Indiana state lawmakers are currently in the midst of a special legislative session focusing in part on abortion. The main proposal would ban almost all abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or in which the life of a pregnant woman is in danger. Indiana’s governor is a Republican, and the party controls both houses of the state legislature.

The bill has drawn mixed reviews, even from opponents of abortion rights; some groups say the bill is poorly drafted and would not do enough to prevent abortions.

The proposal is being watched closely because Indiana is surrounded on three sides by states where abortion rights are in question: Ohio, where abortion is already severely restricted, and two states, Kentucky and Michigan, where strict bans are currently on hold and being reviewed by the courts.

If passed, Indiana’s law would be “very dangerous,” Bernard said.

“We’re going to see women die. We’re going to see not only abortion care affected, but also miscarriage care, pregnancy complication care, infertility care, contraception. Really, the list is endless,” she said. “We’re going to see doctors harassed, persecuted. We’re going to see patients being forced into risky pregnancies and dying because of those pregnancies.”

No matter what happens with the legislation, Bernard says she remains committed to providing health care in the state.

“I came to work in Indiana to provide comprehensive, compassionate, evidence-based care to Indiana women. And I intend to continue to do so,” she said.

Marisa Peñaloza contributed to this report.

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