Indiana doctor's discipline hearing centers on privacy, reporting of 10-year old Ohio girl's abortion
A hearing on possible disciplinary action opened Thursday for an Indianapolis doctor who spoke publicly about providing an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio, with finger pointing over how the case became a political flashpoint in the national abortion debate.
Indiana's Republican attorney general has accused Dr. Caitlin Bernard of violating state law by not reporting the child abuse to Indiana authorities. She's also accused of breaking federal patient privacy laws by telling a newspaper reporter about the girl’s treatment.
Bernard has consistently defended her actions, and she told the state Medical Licensing Board on Thursday that she followed Indiana’s reporting requirements and hospital policy by notifying hospital social workers about the child abuse — and that the girl’s rape was already being investigated by Ohio authorities. Bernard's lawyers also said that she didn’t release any identifying information about the girl that would break privacy laws.
The Indianapolis Star cited the girl’s case in a July 1 article that sparked a national political uproar in the weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer, putting into effect an Ohio law that prohibited abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. Some news outlets and Republican politicians falsely suggested Bernard fabricated the story, until a 27-year-old man was charged with the rape in Columbus, Ohio. During an event at the White House, President Joe Biden nearly shouted his outrage over the case.
Bernard's lawyer Alice Morical told the board Thursday that the doctor reported child abuse of patients many times a year and that a hospital social worker had confirmed with Ohio child protection staffers that it was safe for the girl to leave with her mother.
“Dr. Bernard could not have anticipated the atypical and intense scrutiny that this story received,” Morical said. “She did not expect that politicians would say that she made the story up.”
Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita’s complaint asked the licensing board to impose “appropriate disciplinary action” but doesn’t specify a requested penalty.
Amid the wave of attention to the girl’s case last summer, Rokita, who is stridently anti-abortion, told Fox News he would investigate Bernard’s actions and called her an “abortion activist acting as a doctor.”
Deputy Attorney General Cory Voight argued Thursday that the board must address what he called an “egregious violation” of patient privacy and Bernard’s failure to notify Indiana’s Department of Child Services and police about the rape.
Bernard objected to Voight saying her choice to publicly discuss the case led to the misconduct allegations.
“I think if the attorney general, Todd Rokita, had not chosen to make this his political stunt we wouldn’t be here today,” Bernard said.