An Indiana board decided Thursday night to reprimand an Indianapolis doctor after finding that he violates patient privacy laws by speaking publicly about providing an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim from neighboring Ohio.
The State Medical Licensing Board voted that Dr. Caitlin Bernard broke privacy laws when she told a newspaper reporter about the woman’s treatment in a case that turned into a flashpoint in the national debate on abortion days after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer.
The board, however, rejected accusations from Indiana’s Republican attorney general that Bernard violated state law by not reporting child abuse to Indiana authorities. Board members voted to fine Bernard $3,000 for the violations, denying a request from the attorney general’s office to suspend Bernard’s license. The board did not issue restrictions on his practice of medicine.
Bernard always defends his actionsand he told the board Thursday that he is following Indiana reporting requirements and hospital policy by notifying hospital social workers about the child abuse – and that the girl’s rape was being investigated by Ohio authorities. Bernard’s lawyers also said he did not release any information about the woman that would violate privacy laws.
The Indianapolis Star cited the woman’s case in a July 1 article that causing national political unrest in the weeks after Roe v. Wade decision last summer upheld Ohio’s law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. Some news outlets and Republican politicians falsely suggested that Bernard made up the story, until a 27-year-old man charged with rape in Columbus, Ohio. During an event at the White House, President Joe Biden almost shouted in his anger top of the case.
The president of the medical board, Dr. John Strobel said he believed Bernard had gone too far in telling a reporter about the woman’s pending abortion and that doctors should be careful about observing patient privacy.
“I don’t think he expected it to go viral,” Strobel said of Bernard. “I don’t think he expected this attention to be brought to this patient. It did. It happened.”
Bernard’s attorney, Alice Morical, told the board Thursday that the doctor had reported child abuse to patients several times a year and that a hospital social worker had confirmed with Ohio child protection staff. that it is safe for the girl to leave with her mother.
“Dr. explained Bernard could not have expected the atypical and intense scrutiny this story has received,” Morical said. “He didn’t expect the politicians to say he made up the story.”
Amidst attention to the woman’s case last summer, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, who is staunchly anti-abortion, spoke out fox News that he will investigate Bernard’s actions and called him an “abortion activist acting as a doctor.”
Deputy Attorney General Cory Voight argued Thursday that the board should address what he called a “gross violation” of patient privacy and Bernard’s failure to notify the Indiana Department of Child Services and police about the rape.
“There’s never been a case like this before the board,” Voight said. “No doctor is that cruel to pursue their own agenda.”
Voight asked Bernard why he discussed the Ohio girl’s case with the newspaper reporter and later in other news media interviews instead of using a hypothetical situation.
“I think it’s really important for people to understand the real-world effects of the laws in this country on abortion,” Bernard said. “I think it’s important for people to know what patients have to go through because of the law that’s passed, and a hypothetical doesn’t make that impact.”
Board member Dr. Bharat Barai disputed the finding that Bernard violated privacy laws, saying he did not release directly protected identifying information such as the woman’s name or address. He disagreed with the view of the majority of the board that the combination of information about the rare moment of a pregnant 10-year-old girl could reveal her identity.
“We tried to think that yes it could have been done and maybe someone discovered it,” Barai said.
During Thursday’s hearing that lasted about 13 hours, Rokita’s office continued a running commentary on its official. Twitter account, with a post that said: “When Bernard talks about the high priority he places on the law and speaks to the public, he does so at the expense of his own patient. It shows where his priorities as an activist rather than a doctor.
Bernard objected to Voight saying his choice to go public with the case led to allegations of misconduct.
“I think if the attorney general, Todd Rokita, hadn’t chosen to make this his political stunt we wouldn’t be here today,” Bernard said.
Lawyers for the attorney general’s office have repeatedly raised questions about whether it is the policy of Bernard’s employer, Indiana University Health, to report suspected child abuse to authorities in the state where the abuse occurred. Abuse follows Indiana law. Officials at IU Health, which is the state’s largest hospital system, confirmed that the Indiana Department of Child Services has never contradicted the hospital’s policy.
The Indiana board – with five doctors and one attorney present appointed or reappointed by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb – has wide latitude under state law that allows it to issue letters of reprimand or suspend, revoke or place on probation a physician’s license.
Ohio’s law imposing a near-ban on abortion was in effect for about two months, before being struck down as a case against it playing in Indiana The Republican-dominated Legislature approved the statewide abortion ban weeks after the Ohio girl’s case gained attention, but abortion continues to be allowed in the state pending the Indiana Supreme Court. decision on the constitutionality of the ban.
Bernard unsuccessfully tried to block Rokita’s investigation last fall, although an Indianapolis judge wrote that Rokita did “clearly unlawful violations” of state confidentiality laws with his public comments about investigating a doctor before filing a medical licensing complaint against him.