Dr. Caitlin Bernard, USA
On June 24, 2022, the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, revoking the constitutional right to abortion. After 50 years of protected abortion rights, this decision removed the reproductive autonomy of women, girls, and individuals who have a uterus by making abortion access difficult or nearly impossible in states with conservative legislatures and governors. Abortions, more specifically induced abortions, are medically performed for a variety of reasons. Abortions are widely acknowledged by health professionals as important medical procedures that can save thousands of lives for people who suffer from dangerous health conditions in cases of chronic and acute illnesses (Martin, 2022, McGovern, 2022). Abortions also enhance the well-being and livelihoods of people who choose not to birth a baby.
Shortly after the 2022 Supreme Court decision, multiple states immediately took action to implement new laws to restrict abortion; other states were already prepared with legislation that was simply triggered by the court decision(Totenberg, 2022). ‘Trigger laws’ were waiting in the states like Wyoming and Utah to be enacted upon the overturning of Roe v. Wade (Jefferies et. al., 2022). Some states retained exceptions to the new laws for rape and incest, like Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, West Virginia, Idaho, North Dakota, Indiana, Utah, and Wyoming, while others made no exceptions and intended to cease all abortions (Jefferies et. al., 2022). Anti-abortion states made provisions to punish healthcare providers, along with pregnant people and those who know of their intentions to seek an abortion (Totenberg, 2022).
Unfortunately, there is a long and dark history of abortion providers being attacked, harassed, and murdered. In 2020, the National Abortion Federation released statistics indicating an increased report of abortion providers receiving death threats from 92 in 2019 to 200 in 2020, and a 125% increase in assaults outside of clinic settings (Fowler, 2021). In post-Roe, abortion access has diminished dramatically and the hostility to abortion-serving medical providers continues to grow.
1. Who is Dr. Caitlin Bernard?
Dr. Caitlin Bernard is a family planning fellowship-trained obstetrician and gynecologist practicing in Indianapolis. Her clinical interests include contraception, miscarriage care, and abortion (Indiana University, n.d.). She is a part of multiple professional organizations such as the American College of OB/GYNs. Additionally, her research focuses on the improvement of contraception access and education surrounding reproductive health to reduce unwanted pregnancies (Indiana University, n.d., Shetty, 2022). Dr. Bernard has been practicing obstetrics and gynecology for 9 years. In 2020, she regularly drove 2.5 hours a month to a clinic in South Bend to help perform first-trimester abortions (Kirchgaessner, 2022). She is passionate about her teaching, research, and clinical programs with missions to improve maternal and infant health outcomes, provide early pregnancy care, and increase contraception access.
2. What happened?
Just 3 days after the overturning of Roe V. Wade, Dr. Bernard received a call from another doctor in Ohio, asking her if she could take a patient who could not receive care in the state of Ohio, as Ohio implemented its ban on abortions for pregnancies past 6 weeks (Stolberg, 2022). Ohio’s new law prevented abortion access for a 10-year-old child who was raped and impregnated by a 27-year-old man, as the patient presented three days after Ohio’s 6-week gestation limit. Dr. Bernard agreed to provide the child with abortion services to terminate the pregnancy in Indiana. During the time this case took place, Indiana still allowed abortions for pregnancies up to 20 weeks after the fertilization of the egg, making this procedure legal (Stracqualursi, 2022). In addition, state policy required abortion care performed on patients under the age of 16 to be reported to the state’s Department of Health (DOH) within 3 days. Dr. Bernard followed through with the proper procedures and filed a report to the DOH two days after the abortion (Quinn, 2022).
Nonetheless, in July 2022, Indiana’s Attorney General, Todd Tokita, announced his office would investigate Dr. Bernard to determine if she had “potentially violated reporting and privacy laws in the case” despite Dr. Bernard having filed the report of the case within two days of the required three (Frehse, 2022). The attorney general was then sent “a cease and desist letter from her attorney” indicating Dr. Bernard had legally complied with all policies and procedures (Frehse, 2022). Six consumer complaints against Dr. Bernard were filed, pouring in after a FoxNews media segment in which Dr. Bernard appeared, and these complaints were then used to pursue Dr. Bernard’s case further (Frehse, 2022).
These complaints were the foundation of the attorney general’s allegation against Dr. Bernard, although the complainants reported no personal interactions with Dr. Bernard, nor did they receive any services from her (Frehse, 2022). Many of the complaints were from residents in other states; California, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, and only one from the state of Indiana (Frehse, 2022). The attorney general’s filing not only harmed Dr. Bernard’s reputation as a credible medical professional but also threatened her personal safety (Quinn, 2022, Magdaleno, 2022).
3. How did the attack and harassment of Dr. Bernard impact Indiana residents and their access to future reproductive health?
The attack on Dr. Bernard created a hostile environment for the state’s obstetrical health professionals. In an NPR interview with Dr. Bernards’ mentees, they discussed the chilling effects on OB-GYNs in training. One mentee said the targeting of Dr. Bernard by political leaders aimed to send a message “to scare other people out of doing the work that she does” (Yousry, 2022). In regards to Dr. Bernard’s situation, many medical students in Indiana are rethinking pursuing reproductive health as the field continues to become increasingly dangerous and scary despite the importance of reproductive rights.
Abortions are an important medical procedure and crucial to hands-on medical training; miscarriages are treated with the same procedure as abortions in first-trimester terminations (Yousry, 2022). However, this type of medical training may not continue as abortion law becomes stricter. This in turn leads to an increased risk of maternal and infant mortality.
As news surrounding abortion laws becomes increasingly uncertain, marginalized communities bear the brunt of the consequences. In addition to closing abortion clinics and shrinking numbers of OB-GYNs, increased traveling distances and waiting periods to receive care puts a lot of strain on communities that lack resources and social support, preventing patients from receiving necessary reproductive health care to avoid serious pregnancy complications (Paltrow et al., 2022, Chakraborty et al., 2022).
However, this battle isn't over yet Dr. Bernard has filed suit against Indiana's attorney general to block his office from utilizing “‘frivolous’ consumer complaints to issue subpoenas” to access patient’s confidential medical records (The Associated Press, 2022, Quinn, 2022).
4. Campaign for Justice
- Currently, multiple organizations have formed funding campaigns to support Dr. Bernard in fighting for abortion rights. https://www.gofundme.com/f/obgyns-supporting-dr-caitlin-bernard
- Additionally, the Physicians for Reproductive Health (PRH) on July 15, 2022, released a statement that its members stand in solidarity with Dr. Bernard and are supporting her. https://prh.org/press-releases/support-and-solidarity-of-dr-caitlin-bernard/
- Planned Parenthood also released a statement on December 1, 2022, calling out the attorney general for intimidating Dr. Bernard and suppressing the rights of other abortion health workers.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, November 23). Abortion surveillance - united states, 2020. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/71/ss/ss7110a1.htm
- Chakraborty, P., Murawsky, S., Smith, M. H., McGowan, M. L., Norris, A. H., & Bessett, D. (2022). How Ohio’s proposed abortion bans would impact travel distance to access abortion care. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 54(2), 54–63. https://doi.org/10.1363/psrh.12191
- Cole, D., & Sneed, T. (2022, July 5). Where abortion “trigger laws” and other restrictions stand after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade | CNN Politics. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2022/06/27/politics/states-abortion-trigger-laws-roe-v-wade-supreme-court/index.html
- Durkee, A. (2022, June 27). Attacks on abortion providers surged in 2021, report finds as Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/alisondurkee/2022/06/24/attacks-on-abortion-providers-surged-in-2021-report-finds-ahead-of-roe-v-wade-ruling/?sh=73e7c5c45419
- Fowler, M. (2021, December 16). National Abortion Federation releases 2020 Violence & Disruption Statistics. National Abortion Federation. https://prochoice.org/national-abortion-federation-releases-2020-violence-disruption-statistics/
- Frehse, R., & Maxouris, C. (2022, July 29). Indiana AG’s investigation into dr. Caitlin Bernard involves consumer complaints from people who never interacted with the doctor, her attorney says. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2022/07/28/us/caitlin-bernard-indiana-ag-investigation-consumer-complaints/index.html
- Hanna, J., & Boxer, S. (2022, November 3). The Indiana doctor who provided abortion services to a 10-year-old Ohio rape victim is suing the state’s attorney general over his investigation. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2022/11/03/us/doctor-caitlin-bernard-suing-indiana-ag/index.html
- Indiana University: School of Medicine. (n.d.). Faculty Bio: Caitlin Bernard, MD, MS. Indiana University School of Medicine.
- Jefferies, D. J., Carman , J. C., & Chiwaya, N. C. (2023, May 23). Abortion by state: Tracking trigger laws, bans, or restrictions. NBCNews.com. https://www.nbcnews.com/data-graphics/abortion-state-tracking-trigger-laws-bans-restrictions-rcna36199
- Kirchgaessner, S. (2022, July 16). Daughter of doctor who gave 10-year-old an abortion faced kidnapping threat. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/jul/15/indiana-caitlin-bernard-doctor-abortion
- Magdaleno, J. (2022, November 22). Indy doctor received “threats” after Rokita’s Fox News interview; attorneys spar in Court. Detroit Free Press. https://www.freep.com/story/news/2022/11/22/indy-doctor-caitlin-bernard-received-threats-after-rokitas-fox-news-interview/69666677007/
- Martin, M. (2022, May 8). How abortion became a mobilizing issue among the religious right. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2022/05/08/1097514184/how-abortion-became-a-mobilizing-issue-among-the-religious-right
- McGovern, T. (2022, June 30). Overturning roe v wade has had an immediate chilling effect on reproductive healthcare. The BMJ. https://www.bmj.com/content/377/bmj.o1622.short
- Paltrow, L. M., Harris, L. H., & Marshall, M. F. (2022). Beyond Abortion: The Consequences of Overturning Roe. American Journal of Bioethics, 22(8), 3–15. https://doi.org/10.1080/15265161.2022.2075965
- Quinn, M. (2022, November 3). Dr. Caitlin Bernard, who provided abortion to 10-year-old rape victim, sues Indiana attorney general. CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/atlanta/news/dr-caitlin-bernard-lawsuit-indiana-attorney-general-abortion-10-year-old-rape-victim/
- Shetty, N. (2022, July 15). Who is dr. Caitlin Bernard? wiki, biography, net worth, age, husband. BIOGRAPHYDAILY. https://biographydaily.com/2022/07/15/dr-caitlin-bernard/
- Stolberg, S. G., & Sasani, A. (2022, July 15). Doctor informed state of 10-year-old girl’s abortion. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/14/us/10-year-old-abortion-caitlin-bernard-indiana.html
- Stracqualursi, V., Ly, L., & Westhoff, K. (2022, August 6). Indiana becomes First State post-Roe to pass law banning most abortions | CNN politics. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2022/08/05/politics/indiana-state-house-abortion-bill/index.html
- The Associated Press. (2022, November 3). Doctor who performed abortion on 10-year-old rape victim sues Indiana AG over bids to access records. NBCNews.com. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/doctor-performed-abortion-10-year-old-rape-victim-sues-indiana-ag-bids-rcna55559
- Totenberg, N., & McCammon, S. (2022, June 24). Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, ending right to abortion upheld for decades. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2022/06/24/1102305878/supreme-court-abortion-roe-v-wade-decision-overturn
- Yousry, F. (2022, August 10). Their mentor was attacked. now Young OB-Gyns may leave Indiana. NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2022/08/10/1116024857/young-obgyns-indiana
- Picture: https://iuhealth.org/find-providers/provider/caitlin-bernard-md-4893