INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – An Indiana board decided Thursday night to reprimand an Indianapolis doctor after finding that she has violated patient privacy laws speaking publicly about offering an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim from neighboring Ohio.
The state’s Board of Medical Licensing has voted that Dr. Caitlin Bernard did not follow privacy laws by telling a reporter about the girl’s treatment in a case that became a political turning point in the national abortion debate days after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer.
The board, however, rejected allegations by Indiana’s Republican attorney general that Bernard violated state law by failing to report the child abuse to Indiana authorities. Board members decided to fine Bernard $3,000 for the violations, rejecting a request by the attorney general’s office to suspend Bernard’s license.
Bernard has done this consistently he defended his actionsand told the board Thursday that Indiana’s was next reporting requirements and the hospital’s policy of notifying hospital social workers about child abuse, and that the girl’s rape was already being investigated by Ohio authorities. Bernard’s lawyers also said he did not release any identifying information about the girl that would violate privacy laws.
The Indianapolis Star cited the girl’s case in a July 1 article that caused a national political uproar weeks after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer, putting into effect an Ohio law that banned abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. Some media and Republican politicians falsely suggested that Bernard made up the story, until a 27-year-old man was accused of rape in Columbus, Ohio. During an event at the White House, President Joe Biden he almost shouted his indignation about the case
Board President Dr. John Strobel said he believed Bernard went too far in telling a reporter about the girl’s pending abortion and that doctors should be careful to observe patient privacy .
“I don’t think he expected this to go viral,” Strobel said of Bernard. “I don’t think he expected this attention to be brought to this patient. It did. Happen.”
Bernard’s attorney, Alice Morical, told the board Thursday that the doctor reported child abuse to patients many times a year and that a hospital social worker had confirmed with Ohio child protection staff. that it was certain that the girl would leave with her mother.
“Dr. Bernard could not have anticipated the unusual and intense scrutiny this story received,” Morical said. “She did not expect politicians to say she made up the story.”
Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita’s complaint asked the licensing board to impose “appropriate disciplinary action,” but did not specify a requested penalty.
Amid a flurry of attention to the girl’s case last summer, Rokita, who is staunchly anti-abortion, told Fox News that she would investigate Bernard’s actions, calling her “an abortion activist who acts as a doctor.”
Assistant Attorney General Cory Voight argued Thursday that the board needed to address what he called a “flagrant violation” of patient privacy and Bernard’s failure to report the violation to the Department of Child Services and police of Indiana.
“There hasn’t been a case like this before the board,” Voight said. “No doctor has ever been so brazen in pursuit of his own agenda.”
Voight asked Bernard why he discussed the Ohio girl’s case with the newspaper reporter and later in interviews with other media outlets instead of using a hypothetical situation.
“I think it’s incredibly important that people understand the real-world impacts of the abortion laws in this country,” Bernard said. “I think it’s important that people know what patients will have to go through because of the legislation that’s being passed, and a hypothetical doesn’t have that impact.”
During Thursday’s hearing, Rokita’s office maintained a comment on its official Twitter account, with a post saying: “When Bernard talked about the high priority he placed on the legislation and spoke to the public , he did it at the expense of his own patient. That shows where his priorities lie as an activist rather than a doctor.”
Bernard pushed back against Voight, saying his choice to publicly discuss the case led to allegations of misconduct.
“I think if Attorney General Todd Rokita hadn’t chosen to make this his political gimmick, we wouldn’t be here today,” Bernard said.
Attorneys for the attorney general’s office repeatedly raised questions about whether the policy of Bernard’s employer, Indiana University Health, to report suspected child abuse to authorities in the state where the abuse occurred complied with Indiana law. Officials at IU Health, which is the state’s largest hospital system, said the Indiana Department of Children’s Services has never objected to the hospital’s policy.
The Indiana board — with five doctors and a lawyer present who were appointed or re-elected by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb — had wide latitude under state law to issue letters of reprimand or suspend, revoke or place on probation a medical license.
Ohio’s near-abortion law was in effect for about two months, before it was stopped as lawsuit against him play of Indiana The Republican-dominated Legislature passed a statewide abortion ban weeks after the Ohio girl’s case drew attention, but abortions have remained legal in the state pending an Indiana Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the ban.
Bernard tried unsuccessfully to block Rokita’s investigation last fall, though an Indianapolis judge wrote that Rokita did “clearly illegal breaches” of state confidentiality laws with her public comments about the doctor’s investigation before filing the medical license complaint against her.