An Indiana doctor has been fined $3,000 after she performed an abortion on a 10-year-old Ohio girl who had been raped and was unable to obtain the procedure in her own state, thanks to the repealing of Roe v. Wade.
Dr Caitlin Bernard was fined not for the procedure itself, but for publicly talking about it.
The case became a flashpoint following the June 24, 2022 decision by the Supreme Court to revoke the 50-year-old law.
Ohio’s near-total abortion ban immediately went into effect: It banned all abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy, before most people even know they are pregnant.
Abortion is legal in Indiana, up until 21 weeks and six days. An Indiana law that completely banned abortion in Indiana went into effect on September 15 but is being challenged in the courts, and it is currently not in effect.
Bernard on Thursday broke down in tears as she was told that she would not lose her medical license – something the Republican attorney general had sought.
Dr Caitlin Bernard on Thursday was fined $3,000 for performing the abortion on the 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio, and then talking publicly about it
But the state Medical Licensing Board voted that she did not abide by privacy laws by telling a newspaper reporter about the girl’s treatment.
The board, however, rejected accusations from Indiana’s Republican attorney general that Bernard violated state law by not reporting the child abuse to Indiana authorities.
Board members chose to fine Bernard $3,000 for the violations, turning down a request from the attorney general’s office to suspend Bernard’s license.
Bernard has consistently defended her actions, and she told the 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 did not 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.
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, left, sits between attorneys John Hoover and Alice Morical on Thursday before a hearing in front of the state medical board in Indianapolis
Board President Dr. John Strobel said he believed Bernard went too far in telling a reporter about the girl’s pending abortion and that physicians need to be careful about observing patient privacy.
‘I don’t think she expected this to go viral,’ Strobel said of Bernard.
‘I don’t think she expected this attention to be brought to this patient. It did. It happened.’
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 needed to 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.
‘There´s been no case like this before the board,’ Voight said. ‘No physician has been as brazen in pursuit of their own agenda.’
Voight asked Bernard why she discussed the Ohio girl´s case with the newspaper reporter and later in other news media interviews rather than using a hypothetical situation.
‘I think that it´s incredibly important for people to understand the real-world impacts of the laws of this country about abortion,’ Bernard said. ‘I think it´s important for people to know what patients will have to go through because of legislation that is being passed, and a hypothetical does not make that impact.’
During Thursday’s hearing, Rokita´s office kept up a running commentary on its official Twitter account, with one post saying ‘When Bernard talked about the high priority she puts on legislation and speaking to the public, she did so at the expense of her own patient. This shows where her priorities are as an activist rather than a doctor.’
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.
Lawyers 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 of IU Health, which is the state´s largest hospital system, testified that the Indiana Department of Child Services has never objected to the hospital policy.
The Indiana board – with five doctors and one attorney present who were appointed or reappointed by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb – had wide latitude under state law allowing it to issue reprimand letters or suspend, revoke or place on probation a doctor´s license.
Ohio´s law imposing a near-ban on abortion was in effect for about two months, before being put on hold as a lawsuit against it plays out. Indiana´s Republican-dominated Legislature approved a statewide abortion ban weeks after the Ohio girl´s case drew attention, but abortions have continued to be permitted in the state while awaiting an Indiana Supreme Court decision on the ban´s constitutionality.
Bernard unsuccessfully tried to block Rokita´s investigation last fall, although an Indianapolis judge wrote that Rokita made ‘clearly unlawful breaches’ of state confidentiality laws with his public comments about investigating the doctor before filing the medical licensing complaint against her.