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Their mentor was attacked. Now young OB-GYNs may leave Indiana

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

When Roe v. Wade was overturned, Indiana became one of the first states to pass a near-total ban on abortion. Medical providers say this is bad news for patients, and it could hurt Indiana's ability to recruit and retain health care workers. WFYI's Farah Yousry spoke with young doctors there who are now reevaluating their future options.

FARAH YOUSRY, BYLINE: It's 7:30 in the morning at Indiana's largest teaching hospital. OB-GYN residents meet with their boss, Dr. Nicole Scott.

NICOLE SCOTT: All right, we'll go ahead and get started.

YOUSRY: Normally, they use these meetings to catch up and discuss the latest journal article. But top of mind today is what happened to one of their colleagues.

SCOTT: Any other abortion care questions? I know this is hard on everyone.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: How's Dr. Bernard doing?

SCOTT: Bernard is actually in really good spirits - I mean, relatively. She has 24/7 security. She has her own lawyer. She has...

YOUSRY: Dr. Caitlin Bernard is an Indiana OB-GYN. She became the target of an onslaught of false accusations from TV pundits and political leaders after she revealed that she provided an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim who crossed state lines from Ohio to Indiana. Bernard has been a mentor to most of the residents here, like Dr. Beatrice Soderholm.

BEATRICE SODERHOLM: Watching what she went through was scary. I think that was part of the point for those who were putting her through that - was to scare other people out of doing the work that she does.

YOUSRY: Indiana's abortion ban has limited exceptions for rape and incest, fetal abnormalities and if the patient's life is at risk. Medical providers could lose their license and even risk facing up to six years in prison if they don't follow the law. Scott tells her residents there will be 24/7 legal counsel for them. But that's little consolation for most, like chief resident Soderholm.

SODERHOLM: Have you ever made a phone call at 2 a.m.? Even if we have consulting services available, my worry is that you might not get the best advice or the most timely advice. And some of these situations go poorly very quickly.

YOUSRY: That worries Dr. Wendy Tian. She's got a year left in her OB training. She's been open to practicing in Indiana, but that's changed.

WENDY TIAN: I always thought I wanted to do family planning. I'm now thinking about doing, like, something else. But I, for sure, like, don't know if I would be able to stay in Indiana post-graduation.

YOUSRY: A survey of residents and fellows across all specialties at the hospital found that 80% of the doctors said they are less likely to stay and practice in Indiana with the abortion ban. Scott says last year, more than half of them stayed.

SCOTT: I mean, our residents are devastated. I mean, they signed up to provide - I'm sorry - they signed up to provide comprehensive health care to women. And they are being told that they can't do that. And I think it will deeply impact how we recruit and retain people to our state.

YOUSRY: That could be trouble for patients in states like Indiana that already have a shortage of providers. One study suggests that nearly half of all rural counties in the U.S. do not have a single hospital with obstetric services. Dr. Scott says it'll also restrict the hands-on training she can offer doctors in abortion and managing miscarriages. Some programs may send residents to states without abortion restrictions, but that could be a logistical nightmare. All of this has given Beatrice Soderholm a lot to think about. Soderholm was certain she wanted to practice in Indiana. But lately, family in Minnesota have asked why she would stay.

SODERHOLM: I've had to think about it. There's been hesitation in that decision. But it's hard to leave. Sorry.

YOUSRY: She feels a strong connection to her underserved patients in Indianapolis and decided she'll probably stay. Other young doctors may choose to leave. For NPR News, I'm Farah Yousry.

SUMMERS: This story is a part of a partnership that includes Side Effects Public Media, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Farah Yousry
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