A disciplinary hearing is underway in Indiana to decide whether to penalize a doctor who spoke publicly about aborting a 10-year-old Ohio rape victim.
Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, a Republican, accused Dr. Caitlin Bernard of failing to report child abuse and violating patient privacy by speaking to a reporter about the girl’s case. in a written complaint in November, Rokita asked the Indiana Medical Licensing Board to discipline Bernard accordingly.
At Thursday’s hearing, the board is expected to vote on whether Bernard should face any sanctions. Under Indiana law, possible disciplinary actions include issuing warning letters or suspend or revoke a physician’s license.
In July, The Indianapolis Star reported that Bernard had received a call from a doctor about an alleged case of child abuse involving the 10-year-old girl. The girl was just over six weeks pregnant. Ohio bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, under a law enacted after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.
The girl went to Indiana for Bernard’s care, the Star reported, where abortion was legal at the time. Indiana has since passed a near-total ban on abortion, though a judge later struck down the law.
Cory Voight, director of complex litigation for the Indiana state attorney general’s office, told the licensing board Thursday that Bernard violated state law by failing to maintain patient confidentiality and not report the case to Indiana police. and the Indiana Department of Children’s Services.
Voight added that Bernard also violated HIPAA, a law that prohibits medical professionals from disclosing a patient’s confidential health information without their consent or knowledge.
«This is not a typical hearing. There has not been a case like this before the board. No physician has been so brazen in pursuing their own agenda,» Voight said in opening remarks.
But Bernard’s attorney, Alice Morical, said Bernard reported child abuse in a manner consistent with Indiana law, as he informed a social worker at his university about the 10-year-old patient. As far as HIPAA is concerned, Morical added, Bernard did not violate the law because her comments to The Indianapolis Star did not include identifying information such as the patient’s name, date of birth or date of hospital admission.
“Doctors can talk to the media,” Morical said.
Indiana University Health, where Bernard works as an OB/GYN, investigated the issue last year and determined that Bernard had complied with patient privacy laws.
Bernard sent Rokita a infraction letter in July asking him to stop making «false or misleading statements» about her.
Bernard’s case has been highly publicized, as his story about the young woman drew strong reactions from political figures on both sides of the aisle.
«Ten years. Raped, six weeks pregnant. Already traumatized. Forced to travel to another state. Imagine being that girl,» said President Joe Biden. saying at a press conference in July, when he signed an executive order to safeguard access to abortion. The order included protections for those who travel from a state that bans abortion to a state where the service is legal.
Some Republican leaders, including Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, falsely suggested in July that Bernard had fabricated his young patient’s story, as did Fox News commentator Jesse Watters and former Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
«I was surprised that people think that unfortunately young girls are not often raped and get pregnant,» Bernard said during Thursday’s hearing. «The idea that this was something that someone would make up or it was a lie, or it’s something that doesn’t happen, it really surprised me.»
An Ohio man, Gerson Fuentes, was charged with the rape of the 10-year-old girl in July, and a detective testified that month that the girl had miscarried in Indianapolis on June 30.
It has not been made public what Fuentes’ relationship was with the girl before the alleged rape. Bernard said Thursday that his colleague in Ohio told him the girl had two brothers who were possible suspects.
Associated Press contributed.