Dr. Caitlin Bernard, of Indiana University Health, went on the offensive this week when she announced publicly that she performed an abortion on a 10-year-old girl that traveled from Ohio to Indiana to receive the procedure.
“My heart breaks for all survivors of sexual assault and abuse. I am so sad that our country is failing them when they need us most. Doctors must be able to give people the medical care they need, when and where they need it,” Bernard tweeted on Wednesday.
Ohio quickly banned abortion outright after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
Bernard said she received a call from a child abuse doctor in Ohio who asked her if she could take on another patient. They had a 10-year-old girl in their office who desperately needed an abortion.
Bernard took them on as a patient and performed the procedure. Abortion is still legal in Indiana, and healthcare providers say they are already seeing a jump in demand from patients from other states.
Dr. Katie McHugh, an independent obstetrician-gynecologist, says she has seen “an insane amount of requests” from pregnant people in Kentucky and Ohio, where it is far more difficult to get an abortion.
More than 100 patients in Dayton, Ohio had to be scheduled at an Indianapolis facility, said a representative for Women’s Med. Women and pregnant people are “crying, distraught, desperate, thankful and appreciative,” the representative added.
But experts say Indiana will likely pass additional abortion restrictions in the coming weeks, and doctors like Bernard are getting ready for a dramatic shift in policy.
“It’s hard to imagine that in just a few short weeks we will have no ability to provide that care,” Bernard said.
It didn’t take long for abortion opponents in Indiana to fire back at Bernard after her tweet went viral. Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita appeared on Fox News to criticize the doctor.
“Thanks for having me, but I shouldn’t be here,” Rokita said during the interview “First of all, this is an illegal immigration issue because likely of Biden’s lawlessness at the border and everything going on down there. That’s why Indiana, as a non-border state, has actually filed several independent lawsuits on that.”
Rokita was referring to 27-year-old Gerson Fuentes, who has been charged with one count of rape involving a 10-year-old victim. The young patient in question identified Fuentes to the police as the person who raped her. He is now in custody on a $2 million bond. Prosecutors have declined to comment on the case, and it’s not clear how or if the suspect knew the girl.
Rokita went on to call out Bernard for providing care to the patient.
“We have the rape, and then, we have this abortion activist acting as a doctor with a history of failing to report, so we’re gathering the information, we’re gathering the evidence as we speak, and we’re gonna fight this to the end, including looking at her licensure,” Rokita said on air. “If she failed to report in Indiana, it’s a crime to intentionally not report.”
There is no record of Bernard failing to report child abuse.
“This is a child, and there’s a strong public interest in understanding if someone under the age of 16 or under the age of 18, or really any woman, is having abortion in our state,” Rokita added.
In response, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said the story was being used as a political weapon and the victim could have had an abortion in Ohio. Abortion is permitted in Ohio if the doctor deems it’s a medical emergency.
But the 10-year-old had nowhere else to go.
“Again, this is not a political issue. Abortion care is healthcare, and we need to keep it in that arena,” said Bernard during a recent pro-choice rally at the Indiana Statehouse.
She plans on testifying before lawmakers when the legislature reconvenes for a special session on July 25. During the session, the state will likely vote to restrict abortion access, according to those familiar with the situation.
“It’s important to tell our patients’ stories as much as we can,” Bernard said.
She is one of many Indiana abortion providers trying to cater to more out-of-state patients.
“We’ve seen an influx in travel, particularly in states that have passed abortion bans like Ohio and Kentucky, and we will continue to do see them until we are not able to anymore,” Bernard said.
Indiana has already passed several restrictions designed to reduce the number of abortions that occur in the state. For example, women must now be advised that “human physical life begins at fertilization.” Doctors are also required to disclose fetal pain.
President Biden also commented on the girl’s experience when he signed an executive order on abortion last week.
“She was forced to have to travel out of the state to Indiana to seek to terminate the pregnancy and maybe save her life,” Biden said at the White House. “Ten years old — 10 years old! — raped, six weeks pregnant, already traumatized, was forced to travel to another state.”