Almost immediately after Roe v. Wade was overturned in June, Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an abortion provider in Indiana, treated a 1o-year-old pregnant rape survivor from Ohio who was just past the cut-off set by her home state’s six-week abortion ban. Bernard told the Columbus Dispatch about the patient and quickly became the subject of threats from anti-abortion rights activists.
She has continued to speak publicly about the issue, but not due to a sense of courageousness: “I don’t feel brave,” she wrote in a Washington Post op-ed published Friday.
“I feel anguished, desperate and angry,” she said. “I don’t want to be the one who loses a patient because her pregnancy killed her before I could save her. I don’t want to live in a place where my government tells me that child sex abuse victims must become mothers. I don’t want to have to accept that a particular religious ideology eclipses my duty as a physician.”
Bernard got a call from a child abuse doctor in Ohio three days after Roe was overturned. The doctor was seeking an abortion for a 10-year-old girl who had been raped and was now six weeks and three days pregnant—making her ineligible for an abortion in her home state. (Crossing the state border for abortion care may soon be unavailable for Ohio residents, though. The Indiana legislature on Monday convened a special session to consider a total abortion ban with few exceptions.)
Bernard unsurprisingly became the target of right-wing hate, but her story and the reporting on it was also questioned by mainstream media.
“I’ve been called a liar,” she wrote in the Post op-ed. “I’ve had my medical and ethical integrity questioned on national television by people who have never met me. I’ve been threatened.”
Last week, Bernard began defamation proceedings against Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita (R), who accused her on Fox News of not following the state’s reporting laws when caring for the 10-year-old girl. That’s not true, of course: Documents show that Bernard did indeed comply with the relevant laws. Bernard’s attorney sent a tort claim notice outlining the harm done to her reputation, trigging a 90-day period in which Rokita may settle before the lawsuit against him is officially filed.
In the wake of the professional attacks and outright threats to her family, people around the country have praised Bernard for publicly speaking about abortion access. “But I’m not any braver than any other physician who would do the right thing when faced with a patient in need,” she wrote.
“My life’s work has been to go where I’m needed, to serve my fellow human beings, and to relieve pain and suffering in any way I can,” she said in her op-ed. And even if her home state makes that harder, “that is what I will continue to do.”