Dr. Caitlin Bernard waits for a question from the Attorney General’s Office at a medical licensing hearing on May 25, 2023. (Whitney Downard/Indiana Capital Chronicle)
Indiana OB-GYN and abortion provider Caitlin Bernard recently opened up about her experience fighting for her medical license — and fears for the future — in a new podcast series titled The Nocturnists: Post-Roe America.
The team behind the seven-episode series has been recording intimate conversations with abortion providers across the country and delving into how their personal and professional lives have been upended by the reversal of Roe v. Wade.
Bernard is featured in the fifth episode of the podcast series focusing on the culture of silence around reproductive health in medical spaces, and how breaking that silence is important to reclaim reproductive freedom.
“For me, medicine and advocacy are totally interchangeably related and unable to be really separated,” she said, speaking of how she testified against abortion bills for years before the Dobbs ruling came down in June 2022.
It was then that she told an Indianapolis Star reporter about a 9-year-old girl from Ohio who had to come to Indiana to get an abortion after being raped. Bernard said initially she was surprised at how people didn’t know young girls get raped and pregnant. She wasn’t concerned about retribution.
But then it became a national firestorm and she ended up in a medical licensing hearing defending her license to practice. She recalls the first 20 minutes of the 15-hour hearing being about a tattoo she has and whether she should be forced to answer questions about it. It’s a hanger.
“Everybody in the room, all the cameras, everything was like, we want to force her to answer these questions about her tattoo. And so there was this back and forth about what is that tattoo and what does it say and why would that be relevant and how is this important and so f—— bizarre,” Bernard said.
Ultimately, the board found she properly reported the abortion and was fit to practice but that she did break privacy protocols. She was given a letter of reprimand and a $3,000 fine.
She never stopped practicing and now is worried about whether she will be challenged if she deems that a woman’s health is in danger and an abortion is necessary under the law.
“Who’s going to second-guess my medical opinion? … What happens if we do her abortion and we put it on the terminated pregnancy report? It gets sent to Indiana Right to Life. They send a complaint to the Attorney General’s office. I’m back in a hearing again. You know, on my to-do list is to call my county prosecutor to find out what he’s going to do if somebody calls in a complaint against me.”
“You know, and am I going to go to jail?” she asked.
Bernard noted in a recent implementation call that security at the hospital where she works asked, “If somebody complains to us, we are a police force. Are we supposed to arrest her? Like, in her office? How does that work?”
But she was clear that she doesn’t want doctors to shrink back and be afraid.
“I would much prefer the response be like, ‘Look, if she can stand up and take all of that risk, then I can do what I need to do in my small space to provide that same level of integrity and good patient care and advocacy,'” Bernard said. “If you leave it to the most visible abortion providers to do all of the advocacy then yeah, of course, we look like activists because you’re stranding us in the middle of nowhere by ourselves.”
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