Indiana reprimands doctor who aborted 10-year-old rape victim

An Indiana doctor who aborted a 10-year-old girl who was raped last year violated his young patient’s privacy when discussing the case with a reporter, the state medical board said Thursday night. ‘State.

Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an Indianapolis obstetrician-gynecologist, was catapulted into the national spotlight last year after performing an abortion for an Ohio girl shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, who left states free to severely restrict or ban abortion. .

The state medical board voted to issue Dr. Bernard a letter of reprimand and a $3,000 fine. But he decided against imposing harsher penalties, which could have included suspension or probation, deciding instead that Dr. Bernard was fit to resume his practice.

The board also cleared her of other allegations that she failed to properly report the girl’s rape to authorities.

The ruling was the culmination of a year-long lawsuit against Dr. Bernard by state Attorney General Todd Rokita, a Republican who opposes abortion.

The Ohio girl had traveled to Indiana for the procedure after her home state banned most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. Dr. Bernard spoke to a reporter for the Indianapolis Star about the case at an abortion rights rally. She did not name the patient, but the case quickly became a flashpoint in the first days of heated debate following the Supreme Court’s ruling, catching President Biden’s attention and attracting attention and anger of the conservatives towards Dr. Bernard.

“I don’t think she intended it to go viral,” said Dr. John Strobel, chairman of the board, calling Dr. Bernard a “good doctor.”

“But I think we doctors need to be more careful in this situation,” he said.

Mr Rokita, who had filed the complaints against Dr Bernard with the medical commission, welcomed the result.

“This matter was about patient privacy and the trust between doctor and patient that was broken,” Rokita said in a statement late Thursday. “What if it was your child or your patient or your brother who was going through a sensitive medical crisis, and the doctor, who you thought was on your side, rushed to the press for political reasons?”

Dr Bernard blamed Mr Rokita for turning the case into a “political stunt”.

During the hearing, which lasted more than 15 hours and ended just before midnight, Dr. Bernard said his own comments did not reveal the patient’s protected health information. On the contrary, said Dr. Bernard, it was the fierce political battle that followed. Some curators doubted his story and launched a request to confirm it. Eventually, the man accused of raping the girl appeared in court and was linked to her case.

Dr Bernard, who has publicly championed abortion rights, said she has an ethical obligation to educate the public about pressing public health issues, particularly reproductive health issues – her area of ​​expertise. expertise.

Last July, after Indiana scheduled a special legislative session on abortion, Dr. Bernard feared that lawmakers in his home state would impose strict restrictions on access to abortion similar to the Ohio law that required his 10-year-old patient to cross state lines.

Indiana passed legislation banning most abortions, with some exceptions for rape and incest. This law is pending a legal challenge. Abortion is currently legal in Indiana up to 22 weeks.

Dr Bernard said she wanted to highlight the potential consequences of laws restricting access to abortion and ‘didn’t foresee’ how much public focus the Ohio girl’s case would .

“I think it’s extremely important that people understand the real impacts of the laws of this country,” she said.

Dr. Peter Schwartz, a Pennsylvania obstetrician-gynecologist and chair of the American Medical Association’s Council on Ethics and Legal Affairs, supported Dr. Bernard’s decision to speak about the Ohio patient.

Dr. Schwartz said Dr. Bernard has an “affirmative obligation to speak out” on reproductive health issues, noting that she is one of only two doctors in Indiana with expertise in complicated obstetrical cases. such as second trimester abortions.

Lawyers on both sides of the hearing have called in medical privacy experts to figure out whether Dr. Bernard violated the guidelines of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPAA, which governs protection of patient privacy.

Dr. Bernard’s employer, Indiana University Health, found that she did not violate HIPAA rules because the patient was not identifiable based on information that Dr. Bernard shared publicly.

“The cause and effect that happened here was not: ‘Dr. Bernard’s story leads the patient to share his protected information,'” said Alice Morical, the doctor’s attorney.

But members of the medical board, made up of six doctors and a lawyer – all appointed by the governor – decided that, taken together, the details provided by Dr Bernard about the patient – ​​including her age, her rape, her state of origin and her abortion – qualified as identifying information.

“Dr. Bernard is a qualified and competent doctor, and I would say she is exactly the doctor people would want their children to see in these circumstances,” Ms. Morical said.


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