INDIANAPOLIS — Well before she performed an abortion that gained international attention, Dr. Caitlin Bernard briefly contemplated no longer performing abortions — because someone threatened to kidnap her daughter in 2020.
Bernard discussed the threat in sworn testimony last year in a federal abortion lawsuit. Planned Parenthood alerted her to the threat after it was passed along by the FBI.
It caused her to stop working for several months at a South Bend abortion clinic, she testified. She later told the Indianapolis Star that she briefly considered no longer performing abortions.
“This is a known risk,” she said. “I knew this going into the job, I knew this going into a state like Indiana and I chose to do it anyways. So therefore when it happens I need to continue the mission I came here for.”
The threat shows the animosity Bernard faced even before providing medical care in Indianapolis to a 10-year-old child from Ohio who was raped. Bernard shared the account with the Indianapolis Star, part of the USA TODAY Network, and the story has since become a flashpoint in the national debate over abortion. Abortion opponents and some news outlets initially questioned the veracity of the story. Then last week, a man was arrested in Columbus and charged with rape.
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After threat, Bernard debated no longer performing abortions
The threat against Bernard’s daughter was first disclosed during testimony in a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn various Indiana abortion provisions. A judge struck down half a dozen provisions but the U.S. Court of Appeals vacated that decision after the U.S. Supreme Court decision last month overturning Roe v. Wade.
Last year in her testimony, Bernard said she had been driving two-and-a-half hours to provide services at the clinic about one day per month.
“I was concerned that there may be people who would be able to identify me during that travel, as well as it’s a very small clinic without any privacy for the people who are driving in and out,” she said. “And so, therefore, people could directly see me. There’s a large group of protesters. They could directly see me, they could directly see my car, my license plate, and easily identify me.”
In a mid-May interview with IndyStar, Bernard talked about the threat when asked if she had any safety concerns about providing abortions. She said the FBI advised her on security steps she could take.
Bernard told IndyStar she expected to receive threats at some point but thought they would come against her, not one of her family members.
The FBI declined to provide any information about the threat against Bernard.
Planned Parenthood said Friday it has committed to providing Bernard with security services and a GoFundMe page set up by fellow OB-GYNs to support Bernard and pay for security for her family has raised more than $225,000.
“Reports regarding threats against Dr. Bernard’s family in 2020 are sadly true,” said Kendra Barkoff Lamy, a spokesperson for Bernard. “These personal and dangerous threats are obviously devastating to her, a board-certified doctor who has dedicated her life to the betterment of women and providing crucial reproductive care, including abortions. Sadly, Dr. Bernard is not alone, and this happens to doctors like her who provide abortions across our nation.”
The National Abortion Federation, a group that advocates for abortion access, said in a recent report that there have been 11 murders, 42 bombings and more than 1,100 threats of harm against abortion providers since it began tracking such statistics in 1977.
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Abortion clinic a frequent target
The South Bend clinic is a frequent target for abortion opponents. An area anti-abortion group, Right to Life Michiana, lists Bernard and five other doctors who provide services at the clinic as a “Local Abortion Threat” on its website. It’s unclear if Bernard was listed at the time of the kidnapping threat.
Right to Life Michiana did not immediately respond Sunday to inquiries from IndyStar. But the group’s executive director, Jackie Appleman, told the Guardian earlier this year that listing Bernard and the other doctors on the group’s website was based on “publicly available information.”
“Right to Life Michiana does not condone or encourage harm, threats or harassment towards anyone, including abortion doctors, abortion business employees and escorts,” Appleman said. “We encourage pro-choice groups to also accept our nonviolent approach when it comes to the unborn.”
Right to Life Michiana gained some notoriety in 2020 for its affiliation with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
In 2006, Barrett ― then a Notre Dame law professor ― signed onto an advertisement the group placed in the South Bend Tribune. “It’s time to put an end to the barbaric legacy of Roe v. Wade and restore laws that protect the lives of unborn children,” the advertisement said.
The ad became a source of controversy during Barrett’s confirmation process because she did not initially disclose it to the Senate Judiciary Committee. During her confirmation hearing, Barrett said she signed the advertisement as a private citizen as she was leaving church and did not remember doing so until seeing media reports about it.