Caitlin Bernard, who performed abortion on 10-year-old rape victim, faces a court hearing
Republican Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita continued for nearly a year to punish Caitlin Bernard, an obstetrician/gynecologist and assistant professor at Indiana University School of Medicine who practiced abortion in June 2022, less than a week later Roe vs. Wade was canceled, enacting trigger laws.
The stakes in Thursday’s hearing are high for Bernard, whose lawyers have refuted Rokita’s allegations as baseless and politically motivated. The seven appointed members of the Board of Governors can, by majority vote, either take no action against Bernard or impose a series of disciplinary actions up to and including the immediate termination of Bernard’s medical license.
She aborted a 10-year-old girl. She always fights for her patients.
Rokita alleges Bernard violated state child abuse reporting laws and federal patient privacy laws by telling a reporter for the Indianapolis Star about the patient’s care. Lawyers for Bernard say she properly reported the incident to an IU Health social worker and did not breach confidentiality laws when discussing the patient’s case generally. and anonymized, typical of doctors. Records obtained by The Washington Post last year show that Bernard reported the girl’s abortion to the relevant state agencies before the legally mandated deadline.
Cory Voight, an attorney in Rokita’s office, called Bernard’s actions an undermining of trust in healthcare professionals and medical confidentiality and accused her of being “brazen in pursuit of her own agenda” in her opening statement on Thursday.
“It’s a matter of confidentiality and trust. Privacy is the foundation, as you know, of health care. It’s something patients rely on,” Voight said.
But Alice Morical, one of Bernard’s attorneys, was unequivocal in her opening statement that Bernard followed policy and complied with Indiana law.
“Dr. Bernard could not have anticipated the atypical and intense scrutiny this story received,” Morical said. “She didn’t expect politicians to say she made up the story. She didn’t expect people to say that the reporter didn’t have enough information. The politicization of this [is] which has caused this problem to continue to grow and be a priority.
Outside the hearing on Thursday, several doctors in white coats were seen entering the courtroom to take a seat in support of Bernard.
Two doctors supporting Dr. Caitlin Bernard are on the front line at Government Center South ahead of Bernard’s hearing before the Medical Licensing Board. Be sure to follow @IndyStarJohnny for more. pic.twitter.com/as1MpmmKTu
— Mykal McEldowney (@mykalmphoto) May 25, 2023
It’s unclear how long the hearing will last, although it is expected to extend into the evening, with several witnesses testifying in person and virtually.
Rokita’s office drew the attention of local reporters to the unusual decision to bring in outside counsel from a Washington law firm for a Medical Licensing Board hearing. As his deputies argued on behalf of the state, Rokita did not attend Thursday’s hearing – but appeared to be watching it from a distance as he tweeted comments.
The 10-year-old’s case drew international attention when it was first revealed in a July Indianapolis Star story about pregnant patients coming to Indiana in response to restrictions on abortion elsewhere due to trigger laws enacted following the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June.
The story instantly became a political lightning rod, with abortion rights advocates citing it as an immediate and horrific example of how the end of federal abortion protections hurt women and girls while anti-Republicans -abortion dismissed the story as fictional. But two weeks later, a 27-year-old man from Ohio was arrested for rape after he allegedly confessed to the crime.
Bernard sued Rokita last year, alleging in his lawsuit that his office relied on “apparently invalid consumer complaints to justify multiple, redundant and overbroad investigations of law-abiding physicians.” An Indiana judge in December denied Bernard’s request to block Rokita’s efforts, saying it was up to the state’s licensing board. But Marion County Judge Heather Welch also said Rokita acted unlawfully by making public comments about Bernard’s investigation for potential wrongdoing – a violation of her office’s confidentiality requirements.