The Midwestern Medical Licensing Board of Indiana has opened a disciplinary hearing against a female doctor after she spoke out about providing abortion care to A 10-year-old rape victim last June.
The doctor, Caitlin Bernard, initially told her story to the Indianapolis Star to illustrate the immediate implications of the Supreme Court’s decision. We overturn the constitutional right for abortion.
That story sparked national outrage, with abortion rights activists deploring the obstacles the 10-year-old faced, and opponents lambasting Bernard for her actions.
In Thursday’s hearing, the board heard a complaint from Indiana Attorney General Todd Roketa, a Republican and abortion rights opponent, accusing Bernard of violating both state and federal law.
The complaint seeks “appropriate disciplinary action” against Bernard. The Board is empowered to suspend or even revoke a doctor’s license.
The attorney general’s office alleged that, by failing to report the rape, Bernard violated Indiana state law, as well as federal standards for patient privacy.
The complaint said that Barnard “spoke repeatedly and regularly to the press to perpetuate coverage of her patient’s private life.”
While the patient is never named in any of Bernard’s interviews, the complaint accuses Bernard of sparking an “extensive media search” for information about the girl.
However, Bernard and her attorneys have denied any violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the law that protects patient privacy.
At Thursday’s hearing, Bernard defended her ability as a physician to speak broadly about medical issues in the public interest.
“I think it’s very important that people understand the real-world impacts of this country’s laws around abortion,” Bernard said. She added that assumptions rarely have the same impact on public awareness.
In July of last year, the employer of Indiana University at Barnard issued a statement confirming the physician’s compliance with patient privacy laws.
Bernard also rejected accusations that she did not provide the proper paperwork to document the 10-year-old’s case.
She said she followed protocol to report cases of child abuse to hospital staff. Media outlets such as the New York Times and National Public Radio also reported that it had complied with procedures for documenting abortions with the state.
At the time of the June 30 miscarriage, police had already investigated rape in the baby’s home state of Ohio.
But with the US Supreme Court Last year’s cancellation of Roe v Wade – The 1973 decision that guaranteed the constitutional right to abortion – Ohio managed to enforce an existing six-week abortion ban that has been mired in legal controversy since 2019.
That forced the 10-year-old and her mother to seek abortion care across state lines, in Indiana. By the time Bernard first heard about the 10-year-old girl, she was six weeks and three days pregnant.
The child eventually received a medical abortionA 27-year-old suspect was arrested in the rape case in July.
Barnard’s public statements about the issue caused a political storm, with many abortion advocates—and even high-profile politicians such as Ohio Representative Jim Jordan—questioning the veracity of the story.
President Joe Biden, a Democrat, even referred to the story during a press conference.
“Should a 10-year-old be forced to give birth to a child rapist?” Biden told reporters, venting his anger. “I can’t think of anything more extreme.”
Alice Morical, Bernard’s attorney, said that although her client had dealt with child abuse cases before, this story put her under the microscope like never before.
“Dr. Bernard could not have anticipated the extraordinary and intense scrutiny this story would receive,” Murical said Thursday. “She didn’t expect the politicians to say she made the story up.”
Healthcare groups with ties to Barnard, eg Planned Parenthood And Physicians for reproductive healthShe also defended her, arguing that the attacks on her professionalism were “politically motivated”.
But in Thursday’s hearing, Indiana’s deputy attorney general, Corey Voight, argued that it was Bernard who was advancing her own political agenda.
“There was no such case before the council,” said Voight. “No doctor has been so shameless in pursuit of his own agenda.”
Foote’s words echoed those of Prosecutor Rokita. As early as July last year, Rokita appeared on Fox News to slam Bernard as an “abortion activist who works as a doctor.” He promised at the time to investigate Bernard and “fight this to the end”.
Bernard sued to stop his investigation, which subpoenaed patients’ medical records, but in December, Marion County Judge Heather Welsh denied her request.
However, the judge also ruled that Rokita had himself breached confidentiality laws in publicly discussing his investigation on cable TV news without first filing a formal complaint.
Welch said Rokita’s appearances in the media were “patently illegal violations of a requirement of the Licensing Investigations Act that staff of the District Attorney’s Office maintain confidentiality about pending investigations until they are referred to the prosecution.”