The rollback of abortion rights promises to bring more conflict to campuses as administrators who pledge to support students and staff clash with local laws that restrict access to reproductive health care. Such a scenario is playing out at Indiana University.
This episode started with horrible news. An Indiana doctor had performed an abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim. The child had traveled from Ohio, where state law prohibited him from having an abortion.
Soon the story was everywhere. President Biden quoted him in a speech. The experts on the right and The Wall Street Journal editorial board said it was “too good to confirm,” until The Despatch of Columbus confirmed this by reporting that an arrest had been made. Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita started an investigation of the doctor, claiming without evidence that she had not reported the abortion to the state, although several newspapers reported that she had.
Very little was known about the doctor until last week when an article about him appeared in The New York Times. They are Caitlin Bernard, assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Indiana University School of Medicine, a physician trained in complex reproductive care and a strong advocate for abortion access in the ‘Indiana.
Those roles have put her in direct conflict with Republican lawmakers in the state, who are currently considering a invoice this would make abortion a crime, except in cases of rape, incest or if the pregnant patient risked a “substantial permanent impairment”. The bill would give Indiana’s attorney general — currently the one investigating Bernard — the right to prosecute abortion cases if that person feels local prosecutors aren’t doing the job.
UI faculty members expected their administration to make a strong show of support for Bernard. Instead, many felt the support was late, lackluster and unspecific. On Monday, a petition circulated asking the president, Pamela Whitten, to speak out against the abortion bill and efforts to intimidate faculty members like Bernard. By afternoon, 161 faculty, staff, alumni and students had signed.
A Statement of July 27 by Whitten and the dean of the medical school, Jay Hess, said that Bernard “has always shown a sincere concern for the well-being of his patients and the education of his students. This is what makes her a highly respected physician, researcher and educator, and a faculty member in good standing with the IU School of Medicine. In the TimeWhitten and Hess were quoted saying that Bernard remains “a member in good standing of the faculty”.
In response to a request for comment, the university spokesperson directed The Chronicle to the declaration of July 27.
Bernard, according to Time story, faced intense harassment. A school colleague, Tracey A. Wilkinson, wrote in the Time that a chilling effect has already set in: she had planned to write the op-ed with Bernard until news of Rokita’s investigation broke.
“I am writing this essay myself – not only to draw attention to the chilling effect on medicine we are seeing right now, but also,” Wilkinson wrote, “because I am terrified that I or one of our colleagues may soon come to terms with what Dr. Bernard is going through after providing care to our patients.
The faculty petition circulating Monday expressed disappointment that the IU administration did not specifically speak out against the abortion bill and Rokita’s investigation of Bernard.
“We ask that you speak out publicly against policies and practices, such as SB1, that deprive all Hoosiers of all reproductive rights and discriminate against half the state’s population on the basis of gender,” the petition reads. “And we ask that you speak out just as publicly against efforts to harass and intimidate faculty members, like Dr. Bernard, who bravely do their jobs to the professional standards that any university must uphold.
The petition was created by Maria Bucur, a history professor at IU in Bloomington. Bucur teaches classes on gender, feminism and sexual violence and said she worries the administration will come to her strong defense when she speaks publicly about these issues.
“One of the things that a president of a public university in a conservative state has to do is she has to thread the needle with the different audiences that she speaks to,” Bucur said. Those audiences include not only conservative boardrooms and state legislators, but also potential and current students, staff and faculty members, she said.
Sarah Bauerle Danzman, an associate professor of international studies, said the university needed to protect Bernard from the “politicized bullying” it suffered in order to keep faculty members.
“These kinds of draconian laws cripple us. It will be harder for us to attract and retain the graduate students and top faculty you need to be competitive for these grants,” she said, referring to money that may come from the law. federal CHIPS and Science Act, which is intended to fund the manufacturing, research and development of semiconductors. Congress passed the $280 billion bill last week and Biden is expected to sign it.
There was already tension between the faculty and Whitten — which began in 2021 amid questions about his selection — over graduate student efforts to unionize. In April, graduate students began a four-week strike to protest the university’s refusal to recognize the union and to demand better pay and job security, The Herald Times reported. Many faculty members signed letters urging the administration to recognize the union, and at an emergency all-faculty meeting in the spring, members voted overwhelmingly in favor of the union effort.
“There is a deep divide between the faculty and this new administration,” said Benjamin Robinson, president of IU-Bloomington’s AAUP chapter and associate professor of Germanic studies. “People don’t feel like there’s a real dialogue.”
He noted that Whitten never mentioned the organizing effort or Bernard or the impending abortion ban on his blog, Written by Whitten.
Robinson saw a contrast between Whitten’s statement about Bernard and that of Lauren Robel, a former IU at Bloomington provost and law school dean, who wrote a letter to the Indiana Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Commission. asking him to investigate the state attorney general for his investigation of Bernard. Robel was a finalist for IU presidency, according to the university’s general counsel at the time.
Rokita’s office Told the Indianapolis Business Review that Robel’s complaint was “without merit”. Rokita was still investigating Bernard, his office said Monday. .