Today’s Most Famous Abortion Doctor

Fibonacci Blue; licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution License.

Dr. Caitlin Bernard described how she provided an abortion for a 10 year-old rape survivor in a local Indiana newspaper article. The girl lived in Ohio, but Ohio had banned abortions after 6 weeks of pregnancy.

The story went viral–and exemplified several pressing issues facing abortion providers and our patients.

Last updated 11/4/22

What happened next

Dr. Bernard was doubted by many in the media, including the Wall Street Journal. In fact, she was unable to share details due to patient privacy laws like HIPAA, and she said so.

Dr. Bernard was harassed by members of the anti-abortion movement, and needed to hire private security. This is the latest in a string of harassment and threats she’s suffered, including a plot to kidnap her daughter in 2020.

Dr. Bernard was targeted by her state’s attorney general, who initially claimed Dr. Bernard might be lying about the patient entirely since he claimed none of the required reports had been made to the state. Despite all evidence to the contrary, he continued to publicly malign Dr. Bernard.

Even when the man accused in the crime was arrested and confessed, the attorney general continued to publicly investigate Dr. Bernard for not filing paperwork to report the abortion and the potential child abuse. Records showed Dr. Bernard did everything right. The Attorney general still threatened her publicly with trying to revoke her license. Dr. Bernard is pursuing a legal tort claim against him for defamation.

Why this matters

1. Abortion bans cause harm.

Whatever exceptions might be included in a ban (health of the pregnant person, rape, incest, etc.), abortion bans will always cause harm to someone who is pregnant. This patient’s case is unusual because of her young age and the fact that she survived sexual assault. Yet even in this extreme case, when the physical and psychological harms of continuing the pregnancy should be clear, some still suggested that she should be forced to give birth. There are hundreds, even thousands, more who are harmed in many other ways by being forced to give birth; this example is just the tip of a much deeper iceberg.

[More about publicizing ordinary and extraordinary abortion stories.]

2. Stigma around abortion was laid bare.

Dr. Bernard faced immediate criticism and skepticism. Even the Wall Street Journal editorial board called her story “fanciful” and cited Dr. Bernard as an unreliable source given her “long history of abortion activism in the media.” This op-ed was published less than 24 hours before the Ohio rapist was arrested and confessed, validating Dr. Bernard’s story.

Stories that push a political point naturally engender some skepticism. But outside of abortion care, we cannot think of any examples–real or hypothetical–in which a doctor advocating for her patient would be accused of inventing the story by a major news outlet. The stigma around abortion means that the word of a doctor who provides abortion is suspect more than others.

[More about Abortion stigma.]

Other examples:

  • Jim Jordan, a Republican Representative from Ohio, tweeted about the story: “Another lie, anyone surprised?” The tweet has since been deleted without comment.
  • Republican Ohio Attorney General David Yost said in an interview with USA Today that “Every day that goes by the more likely that this is a fabrication…I’m not saying it could not have happened. What I’m saying to you is there is not a damn scintilla of evidence. And shame on the Indianapolis paper that ran this thing on a single source who has an obvious axe to grind.” When the truth was proven, he tweeted only, “We rejoice anytime a child rapist is taken off the streets.”

3. Abortion providers face harassment, intimidation, and physical violence.

This behavior by the state’s top law enforcement officer amounts to legal intimidation, and is dangerous.

  • First, this public legal intimidation by the state attorney general officer seems unprecedented. He suggested, publicly and repeatedly, that Dr. Bernard invented the story, and then later, that she failed to file the appropriate paperwork and might lose her license, and that she failed to report the potential child abuse to the proper authorities. He insulted her character, and threatened legal action against her. (She sent a cease and desist order, and is considering filing a defamation suit.)
  • Second, his behavior is dangerous, because it incites others to threats and violence. Violence against clinicians providing abortion is already a longstanding, serious, and growing problem.
    • Abortion clinic-related assaults have increased 10-fold (from 15 in 2018, to 123 in 2021), and stalking has increased by 600% since 2020, and Bomb threats saw an 80% increase in comparison to previous years. Dr. Bernard has already faced kidnapping threats against her young daughter due to previous harassment, and is currently facing threatening phone calls, at a minimum.

Yes, but: Dr. Bernard is fighting back. She filed a lawsuit against the AG saying he went on an illegal ‘fishing expedition’ to target abortion providers.

  • Quoted public complaints that prompted the subpoenas seem less than credible: ““Miss Berhard (sic) kept knowledge of the rape of 10 year old from authorities.”

Time Magazine selected Dr. Bernard for their Time100 list this year.

Go Deeper….

Details of Ohio Attorney General Todd Rokita’s actions:

Dr. Bernard is undergoing an ongoing investigation by Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita  who accused her on Twitter of having failed in the past to comply with Indiana’s abortion reporting requirements for patients under age 16. This claim was given without evidence. AG Rokita first made news in this case when he accused Dr. Bernard of having fabricated the story before the rapist in the case, a 27 year old man from Ohio, was arrested and the story made public. At that point the AG changed his accusation to one of noncompliance with the reporting laws.

In fact, Dr. Bernard did report the procedure in accordance with the law and has the full support of Indiana University Health, who maintain that she also did not violate HIPAA law when bringing the case to the media. Rokita has since doubled down on his baseless assertion, and while appearing on Fox News in August, vowed to continue his push to find her of wrongdoing.

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