Ind. abortion doctor violated privacy laws in revealing girl's rape, board rules

Protesters gather inside the Indiana State House as the Indiana Legislature begins a special session to consider abortion legislation last July. File Photo by Edwin Locke/UPI
Protesters gather inside the Indiana State House as the Indiana Legislature begins a special session to consider abortion legislation last July. File Photo by Edwin Locke/UPI | License Photo

May 26 (UPI) -- An Indianapolis doctor who provided an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim violated privacy laws when she spoke to a newspaper about the case, the Indiana Medical Licensing Board concluded.

The seven-member board, which is appointed by the governor, imposed a $3,000 fine and a letter of reprimand Thursday on Dr. Caitlin Bernard. The panel cleared her on the more serious charge of failing to report abuse of the girl in a timely manner, meaning she will keep her medical license.


The vote, which was unanimous to allow Bernard to retain her practice, came after a 14-hour hearing, with the president of the licensing board, Dr. John Strobel, standing up for Bernard as "a good doctor."

The board has 90 days to sign off on the decision and Bernard has 30 days to appeal the outcome in Marion Superior Court.


A 27-year-old Ohio man has been arrested and charged with assaulting the girl, who became pregnant last June and sought an abortion across state lines in Indiana, where abortion was legal at the time.

Recent legislation in Indiana that would nearly ban the procedure is being challenged in court.

The girl's case made national headlines and ignited a political firestorm following the June 24 Supreme Court ruling that overturned the landmark abortion decision in Roe vs. Wade.

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Ohio's abortion law, enacted hours after the high court ruling, bans the abortion of any fetus with a detectable heartbeat, which happens around the sixth week of pregnancy. The law has no exceptions for rape or incest.

The girl's mother reported the pregnancy on June 22, when the child was just over six weeks pregnant, and had the abortion about a week later.

After performing the procedure, Bernard gave an exclusive interview to a reporter at the Indianapolis Star about the case. The resulting story raised questions about the timing that she reported the assault to authorities.

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An Ohio doctor had called Bernard to ask if she would perform the procedure, at which time Bernard filed a termination of pregnancy report before she alerted state authorities to the rape, the newspaper reported.


Soon, some Indiana conservatives began publicly questioning Bernard's credibility and suggesting that the story about the abortion may not be true.

After several months, Bernard filed a defamation lawsuit against Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, who appeared on Fox News and at other public speaking events, where he pilloried the doctor with "meritless" complaints to justify subpoenas for medical records as he investigated the case.

In December, Rokita filed an administrative action against Bernard, claiming the doctor had "violated federal and Indiana law related to patient privacy and the reporting of child abuse."

"Dr. Bernard violated the law, her patient's trust and the standards for the medical profession when she disclosed her patient's abuse, medical issues and medical treatment to a reporter at an abortion rights rally to further her political agenda," Rokita said previously.

He was not at Thursday's hearing, where Indiana Deputy Attorney General Cory Voight said Bernard's failure to immediately report the rape led to "a child returning to live with her rapist for five days in Ohio," while suggesting Bernard's public revelation had also put the girl's privacy at risk.

"Everyone -- the country -- learned about her patient. Learned a 10-year-old little girl was raped and had an abortion," he said.


But Alice Morical, Bernard's attorney, disputed those claims, saying the doctor immediately reported the assault to Indiana University Health System and followed other state protocols "as she does in every case."

During testimony, Bernard was asked why she didn't make up a fictional account instead of revealing the child's real identity to the newspaper.

"It's incredibly important for people to understand the real-world impacts of the laws of this country," she said.

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