INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana's Republican attorney general on Wednesday asked the state medical licensing board to discipline an Indianapolis doctor who has spoken publicly about providing an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim who traveled from Ohio after its more-restrictive abortion law took effect.
The complaint alleges Dr. Caitlin Bernard violated state law by not reporting the girl’s child abuse to Indiana authorities and violated patient privacy laws by telling a newspaper reporter about the girl’s treatment.
That account sparked a national political uproar in the weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, with some news outlets and Republican politicians falsely suggesting Bernard fabricated the story and President Joe Biden nearly shouting his outrage over the case during a White House event.
Bernard and her lawyers maintain the girl’s abuse had already been reported to Ohio police and child protective services officials before the doctor ever saw the child. A 27-year-old man has been charged in Columbus, Ohio, with raping the girl.
Bernard’s lawyers argue Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, who is stridently anti-abortion, has been spreading false or misleading information about the doctor with his investigation allegations for several months.
The attorney general’s complaint asked the licensing board to impose “appropriate disciplinary action” but doesn’t specify a requested penalty. State licensing boards ensure physicians have the appropriate training and education to practice in the state and can suspend, revoke or place on probation a doctor's license.
“Dr. Bernard violated the law, her patient’s trust, and the standards for the medical profession when she disclosed her patient’s abuse, medical issues, and medical treatment to a reporter at an abortion rights rally to further her political agenda,” the office said in a statement. “Simply concealing the patient’s name falls far short of her legal and ethical duties here.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Wednesday condemned Rokita’s request.
“This is not about the concerns of the victim,” she said. “This is not about the victim at all. This is an elected official going after a doctor for helping a child who was raped and seeking health care.”
The attorney general’s office filed the action as an Indianapolis judge considers whether to block the attorney general’s office from trying to obtain patient medical records for its investigation. The judge's ruling is expected later this week.
Kathleen DeLaney, a lawyer for Bernard, pointed to testimony from that investigation, including from Bernard, who on Nov. 21 testified that both child abuse authorities and law enforcement in Ohio were involved in the case before the child came to Indiana for treatment.
Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Katharine Melnick also testified that day and said child abuse would be reported by hospital social workers, not doctors, and such reports would be referred to law enforcement where the crime occurred.
“Though I am disappointed he has put my client in this position, we are not surprised given Mr. Rokita’s consistent efforts to use his office to seek to punish those with whom he disagrees at the expense of Indiana taxpayers,” DeLaney said in a statement Wednesday.
Bernard treated the girl in Indianapolis in late June, as she said doctors determined the girl was unable to have an abortion in neighboring Ohio. That’s because Ohio’s “fetal heartbeat” law took effect with the Supreme Court’s June 24 decision. Such laws ban abortions from the time cardiac activity can be detected in an embryo, which is typically around the sixth week of pregnancy, before many realize they are pregnant.
Deputy Attorney General Caryn Nieman-Szyper said during a court hearing last week that Bernard wouldn’t be under investigation if she had not disclosed the girl’s rape to a reporter to advance her own advocacy of abortion rights. Nieman-Szyper said Bernard had not shown she had permission from the girl’s family to discuss her care in public, exposing the child to national attention.
Bernard testified that she spoke with an Indianapolis Star reporter about the girl’s impending abortion at an event protesting the Supreme Court’s abortion decision.
After the newspaper cited that case in a July 1 article about patients heading to Indiana for abortions because of more restrictive laws elsewhere, Rokita told Fox News that he would investigate Bernard’s actions, calling her an “abortion activist acting as a doctor.”
Rokita has kept the investigation going even after rape charges were filed in Ohio and public records obtained by The Associated Press show Bernard met Indiana’s required three-day reporting period for an abortion performed on a girl younger than 16.
Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed from Washington, D.C. Arleigh Rodgers is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/arleighrodgers