JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:
An Indiana doctor who provided an abortion to a 10-year-old abuse victim is speaking out for the first time after weeks of being at the center of a national controversy. Dr. Caitlin Bernard provided the abortion for the young girl from Ohio just days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, allowing Ohio's abortion ban to take effect. Bernard is speaking publicly as lawmakers in Indiana consider legislation that would prohibit most abortions. We're joined by NPR's Sarah McCammon, who spoke with Dr. Bernard earlier today. Sarah, what did she tell you?
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: So, Juana, I sat down with Dr. Bernard this morning, and I asked if she could just describe what she was feeling when she first heard about the 10-year-old girl who was pregnant and unable to get an abortion in Ohio. Now, Dr. Bernard told me she couldn't get into specifics about any particular patient, including the one that's put her in the national spotlight, but she said she hears from patients with a variety of needs and concerns. And she feels for them.
CAITLIN BERNARD: Every time I get a call about a patient who needs abortion care particularly, my heart goes out to the patient, to the physician who is calling for help. And I feel obligated and honestly honored to be able to care for them as much as I can.
MCCAMMON: As I'm sure you're aware, there are people who believe for moral reasons, there are powerful lawmakers who believe that there is no reason that an abortion is ever appropriate, even for a young patient who's a victim. But I want to ask you, as a physician, from a medical perspective - in general, what does it mean for a young girl who is not fully developed, who is not an adult to experience a pregnancy and birth?
BERNARD: Every pregnancy is risky, and that's the important thing for people to understand. No matter how healthy, no matter your age, every pregnancy is risky. And it's even riskier for young women. It's even riskier for people with medical conditions that make pregnancy dangerous. And there are so many unforeseen situations that can arise during a pregnancy for which abortion care is the safest and necessary route for that person.
MCCAMMON: Can you say anything about, you know, a person who's not a full-grown adult yet? Is that a uniquely difficult situation medically?
BERNARD: Children face particular dangers in pregnancy, particularly, as you mentioned, because of the development of the body - risks for things like pre-eclampsia, high blood pressure during pregnancy, risk for needing a cesarean section and all of the complications that may arise related to that. And there are lots of challenges that they face during their pregnancy, both physically, emotionally, psychologically.
MCCAMMON: Now, after you spoke out earlier this month, many prominent Conservatives questioned both your credibility and the veracity of the news story itself. That was until a 27-year-old man was charged with the rape of a 10-year-old girl in Ohio earlier this month. But even then, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita went on Fox News and went after you specifically. He called for an investigation, suggested that you may have failed to follow state reporting requirements.
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TODD ROKITA: Then 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 going to fight this to the end, including looking at her licensure. If she failed to report it in Indiana, it's a crime for - to not report - to intentionally not report.
MCCAMMON: Now, you did, in fact, report this abortion. I've seen the document from the Indiana Health Department that was released to NPR and other media demonstrating that you reported a procedure involving a 10-year-old patient that occurred on June 30. How have Attorney General Rokita's public statements affected you?
BERNARD: It's honestly been very hard for me, for my family. Obviously, I can't speak to any particular patient or situation, but it's hard to understand why political figure - prominent figure in the state would want to come after physicians who are helping patients every single day in their state.
MCCAMMON: Why do you think he's come after you?
BERNARD: Physicians who provide abortion have been a target of political harassment for generations. They've been the target of violence, and this is just the latest case of similar harassment that I'm facing now.
MCCAMMON: Living in Indiana, I would imagine you must cross paths with people who oppose abortion sometimes. Does that happen? What are those conversations like?
BERNARD: On an individual basis, I think people are actually much more compassionate than the political discourse makes out to be. I think when you have a one-on-one conversation with somebody about patients that I've seen, the experiences that they have, you realize that people who need abortion care are every single one of us. And people realize that when they're able to have a one-on-one conversation and when it's brought down to the level, again, of health care and not of political wills.
MCCAMMON: We are just beginning to get a clearer picture of exactly what the post-Roe landscape looks like in this country. We are just over a month past the Dobbs decision now. From your position as a health care provider, what do you see coming?
BERNARD: I think it's going to be very dangerous. We're going to see women dying. We're going to see, again, not only abortion care affected but care for miscarriages, care for complications of pregnancy, infertility care, contraception. Really, the list is endless. When you take away someone's right to privacy about their medical decisions, the challenges that they face to access lifesaving health care is going to be enormous. We're going to see physicians harassed, persecuted. We're going to see patients, you know, being forced to continue unsafe pregnancies and die because of those pregnancies. And I think we're going to see a rise in, you know, people who are coming out to tell their stories about what they're experiencing. And I hope that that will show people, again, the real-life impact of these laws. And I am always optimistic that we will be able to reverse course.
MCCAMMON: Do you think these kinds of events - the public pushback, the protests, the attacks by prominent Conservatives like the attorney general of Indiana - will that push some doctors to stop providing abortions, that climate?
BERNARD: What I've heard from my colleagues in Indiana and around the country is that we have been silent for too long, that we have not spoken out enough, that we have come to a point of no return, and they will in fact increase their provision of care that is needed. They will work hard to increase access to abortion care wherever they live. And so, no, I don't see that it will stop physicians. I think it will motivate them.
SUMMERS: Sarah, that conversation with Dr. Caitlin Bernard happened earlier today, and today is also the second day of a special session for the Indiana legislature, where lawmakers are considering that proposal to ban nearly all abortions. What did Dr. Bernard tell you about that bill?
MCCAMMON: She says as a doctor she believes it would harm her patients, particularly those who are facing medical crises or other complex circumstances. And, Juana, as you heard, despite the debate in the legislature, she says she remains hopeful, and she plans to continue serving patients to the fullest extent that she can.
SUMMERS: NPR's Sarah McCammon spoke with Dr. Caitlin Bernard earlier today. Sarah, thank you for your reporting.
MCCAMMON: Thank you.
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