Dr. Caitlin Bernard, who aborted a 10-year-old Ohio girl, speaks out and pays the price

Three weeks before The Supreme Court overturned Rowe v. Wade, Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an OB/GYN in Indianapolis, donned her white lab coat, placed her young daughter in a portable carrier, and joined several colleagues as they headed to the State Capitol, hoping to deliver a letter to the governor. Eric Holcomb.

The letter, signed by hundreds of medical professionals, pleaded with Mr. Holcomb, a Republican, not to call a special legislative session to further restrict abortion. It contained a poignant political message: “Abortion bans are not popular in our state.”

Dr. Bernard, who fell into the national spotlight for performing an abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim last month, giving birth, and providing birth control, Pap smears, and other routine obstetric and gynecological care. She is also one of the few physicians in her staff who have received specific training in comprehensive reproductive care, including second trimester abortions.

But some of her most risqué work takes place outside of her hospital as she publicly advocates for access to abortion.

Her frankness drew a price. Dr. Bernard, 37, has been criticized by right-wing media, harassed and the subject of an investigation by the Indiana Attorney General. She landed on collision center after Row what the medical community feared, when doctors themselves find themselves at the center of political and legal attacks.

“Physicians who perform abortions are persecuted, they were killed”, Dr. Bernard stated this on Tuesday in an interview with The New York Times. “And for too long, I think, because of that, they had to be silent to protect their families, and it created the perception that we were doing something wrong or something illegal. But we are not. And I feel obligated to say it.”

Threats against abortion providers hardly new. But Roe’s ouster has created a new and daunting legal landscape for physicians.

In Indiana, Attorney General Todd Rokita is investigating whether Dr. Bernard, an assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at the Indiana University School of Medicine, reported the abortion of an Ohio girl to Indiana authorities as required. Show records she did.

In a statement to The Times on Tuesday, the Attorney General said he will “fulfill this duty to the very end” and accused Dr. W. Bernard of using the “personal trauma of a 10-year-old rape victim” to “push her ideological stance.”

Dr. Bernard, in turn, says Mr. Rokita is just another politician engaged in “state intimidation for his own political purposes.” She has sued for tort against him, the first step towards a potential libel suit.

Reproductive health professionals are closely following developments in Indiana, the doctor said. Christine Lierly is a Wisconsin ob/gyn who coordinates reproductive health advocacy in the Midwest for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Before Rowe was overthrown, she said, she had abortions at one of four clinics in Wisconsin. Abortions are now banned there by an 1849 law that makes them a felony.

“Those of us who provide abortion services have tried to do it discreetly and discreetly for years, knowing that this is a necessary medical care for our patients,” says the doctor. Lierley said. “Now we feel like we really need to tell a story and be very open about what we see and experience and what our patients are experiencing, and at the same time walk a very fine line in protecting patient privacy.”

Abortions are only a small part of the doctor. Bernard practice. She handles difficult abortion cases — those where the mother’s life is in danger — at the university’s medical center. She performs abortions, both surgical and medical, several days a month at Planned Parenthood clinics in Indiana and Kentucky.

The job has long included stressful elements that go far beyond providing sensitive medical care: in 2020, she said, the FBI told Planned Parenthood it was investigating a threat that her daughter was kidnapped.

Her patients describe her as kind and caring; Rebecca Evans, a nurse midwife who turned to a doctor for help. Bernard, after she had a miscarriage, called the doctor. Bernard, a “complete” clinician who “does all these different things and she’s really into it all.”

Dr. According to her, Bernard’s advocacy is focused on achieving her goal of providing patients with the best possible medical care. By restricting abortion options and requiring her to make certain statements, such as informing patients that the fetus feels pain during an abortion when the science on the subject is still unclear, the state is forcing her to practice medicine in an unsafe and unsafe way. medically, she says.

She is a plaintiff in 2019 lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which searched unsuccessfully repeal Indiana’s ban on almost all second-trimester abortions. She often testifies in the State Legislature. After Rowe was overthrown, she organized a protest. (She also has a tattoo on her left leg of a wire hanger – a symbol of dangerous home abortions before the procedure was legalized – above the words “Trust Women.”)

Abortions up to 22 weeks are currently legal in Indiana. This week, when the Indiana legislature was considering a near-total ban on abortion during a legislative session that she fought against, Dr. Bernard was not there.

According to her, opponents of abortion left hateful messages on her mobile phone. She continues to see patients but has hired security and her colleagues have created a GoFundMe account to help her with her mounting legal bills. Personal appearance in a tense atmosphere in the Legislative Assembly can further exacerbate the situation.

“The politicization of me and the work that I do has definitely prevented me from continuing the advocacy that I have done in the past,” she admitted.

Shortly after Rowe was overthrown, Indianapolis Star learned about her 10-year-old patient, who came from Ohio, where abortion is prohibited after six weeks, even in cases of rape or incest. Dr. Bernard’s allies say the 10-year-old was not given to her by accident; they say there are very few doctors who could handle such a delicate case.

Earlier this month, President Biden mentioned a time when he signed the writ of execution designed to provide access to abortion drugs. All eyes suddenly turned to the doctor. Bernard.

Dr. Bernard on Tuesday declined to discuss any aspect of the case, citing the girl’s private life. In addition to worrying about prosecution, she may face repercussions at work. Until Tuesday, her employer, Indiana University School of Medicine, a publicly funded institution, and Indiana University Health, a non-profit healthcare system, had been publicly silent about her, except that she did not violate patient privacy laws.

In a statement to The Times, Indiana University President Pam Whitten and Medical School Dean Dr. Jay Hess said Dr. Bernard remains “a member of the faculty in good standing”. IU Health called her “a valued and respected physician” and “a true advocate for the health and well-being of her patients.”

In a sense, Dr. Bernard’s life had prepared her for this moment. She inherited her active streak from her parents, who came of age in the social-liberal 1960s and lived on a communal farm in upstate New York when their children were young.

When she was five, she told her family she was going to be a doctor, her sister Rebecca Johnson said. When she was 15, she and her sister walked past a phalanx of protesters at a family planning clinic to get contraceptives. She later saw firsthand the complications that women can experience during pregnancy when she and her father, a carpenter, traveled to Guatemala to help run clinics.

Perhaps that is why, according to her, she was always drawn to obstetrics and gynecology. At the beginning of his career, Dr. Bernard joined a program called AMPATled by Indiana University, which attracts American physicians to Kenya, where abortion is mostly banned.

Nearly a third of the patients she saw suffered complications from unsafe home abortions. “We have often seen women who have been raped, assaulted and now pregnant,” the doctor said. Astrid Christoffersen-Deb, her supervisor.

After completing his medical degree and residency at Northern States Medical University in Syracuse, NY, Dr. Bernard studied at Washington University in St. Louis. Louis, where she received her accreditation in “complex family planning,” a specialty that qualifies her to handle complex cases, including second-trimester abortions.

“People who need a second trimester abortion are often faced with the absolute worst situations imaginable – they have a very desirable pregnancy and their child will not survive or have an incredibly difficult life and they are trying to keep their child from such a result,” she said, adding: “Politicians, people who are uncomfortable with abortions, usually never found themselves in such situations.”

In 2017 Dr. Bernard left St. Louis from Indiana, where she became a reproductive rights doctor. Dr. Tracey A. Wilkinson, pediatrician who works with Dr. Bernard on the Reproductive Health Project in Indiana. Dr. Wilkinson spent the entire Monday at the Indiana State Capitol and said she felt Dr. Bernard’s absence was acute.

“We don’t know we’re going to change how voting happens,” the doctor said. Wilkinson said. “We are going to record that someone stood up and said it was wrong. We go so that our patients can hear someone standing up for them.”

On Tuesday, a Senate committee pushed forward a ban on abortion in Indiana, drawing criticism from across the political spectrum. Abortion rights advocates called the measure an attack on women, while several anti-abortion activists criticized exceptions to allow abortions in cases of rape and incest; one suggested that Dr. Bernard’s 10-year-old patient was due to give birth.

If the bill is passed, Dr. Bernard said she would likely refer Indiana women to out-of-state abortion providers. Although she knows that this can create additional problems for her, she is not going to remain silent.

“One of the most important things about abortion in the US is that people don’t want to talk about it,” she said. “They are afraid of stigma, providers are afraid of stigma, that they will be persecuted, persecuted because they were. So one of the most important things is to just be honest about it.”

Mitch Smith contributed to this story.