INDIANAPOLIS (CN) — The Indiana Medical Licensing Board found that a doctor who performed an abortion for a 10-year-old rape victim violated her medical privacy by speaking about the case to the press.
The licensing board issued its ruling late Thursday night after a day-long hearing, finding that Dr. Caitlin Bernard had violated privacy laws by discussing the young victim’s case.
However, the board did not find that Bernard had violated reporting requirements regarding the abuse of the child. She will face a letter of reprimand and a $3,000 fine for the privacy violations.
Bernard was vaulted into the national spotlight after news broke last summer that she had provided care for a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio who had crossed state lines into Indiana to obtain an abortion.
The news came shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision that overturned Roe v. Wade and ended the federal right to abortion.
At the time, Ohio was under abortion restrictions that banned the procedure once a fetal heartbeat could be detected, which is normally around six weeks. That law has been blocked while the courts decide its fate.
Bernard spoke to the Indianapolis Star about the young victim, which prompted Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita to say that he would be investigating the doctor’s actions.
Eventually, Bernard sued Rokita over what she claimed were investigations based upon dubious consumer complaints, and the Republican attorney general referred the matter to the Indiana Medical Licensing Board.
In December, Marion County Superior Court Judge Heather Welch issued a ruling in Bernard’s case, finding that Rokita had violated the law by publicly discussing his investigation prior to his referral to the licensing board.
“The public statements made by the Attorney General prior to the referral of the matter to the Medical Licensing Board, therefore, are clearly unlawful breaches of the licensing investigations statute’s requirement that employees of the Attorney General’s Office maintain confidentiality over pending investigations until they are so referred to prosecution,” Welch wrote.
After the court’s finding that Rokita had violated the law, the lawsuit was dropped as Bernard awaited her hearing with the licensing board.
During a nearly 14-hour affair Thursday, the board heard testimony from witnesses on both sides. After deliberation, it found Bernard had disclosed too much information to the newspaper about the child’s care.
But the board rejected the state’s argument that Bernard had somehow failed to comply with reporting requirements of the child’s abuse by not reporting the incident directly to Indiana authorities.
Throughout the investigation, Bernard has maintained that she complied with the reporting requirements by reporting the suspected rape to hospital social workers, and that Ohio authorities were already looking into the matter.
A 27-year-old man has been arrested and charged with two counts of felony rape in connection with the incident. He pleaded not guilty in July 2022.
In a statement late Tuesday, Rokita applauded the board's finding of privacy violations by Bernard.
"Like we have said for a year, this case was about patient privacy and the trust between the doctor and patient that was broken. What if it was your child or your parent or your sibling who was going through a sensitive medical crisis, and the doctor, who you thought was on your side, ran to the press for political reasons? It’s not right, and the facts we presented today made that clear," the attorney general said.
IU Health, Bernard’s employer, released a statement in support of the doctor after the ruling.
“We appreciate the Medical Licensing Board’s time dedicated to understanding the issues involving our colleague Dr. Caitlin Bernard. We are pleased she will continue to be a member of our medical team and provide compassionate care to her patients. We do not agree with the Board’s decision regarding patient privacy regulations and stand by the HIPAA risk assessment. We believe Dr. Bernard was compliant with privacy laws.”
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