April 20, 2024

Indiana AG Sues State’s Largest Health System Over Doctor Who Discussed Abortion For 10-Year-Old Rape Victim

Topline

Indiana’s Attorney General has sued the state’s largest hospital system after one of its doctors spoke up about providing an abortion to a 10-year-old girl who traveled from her home state to receive medical care, accusing the system of violating the patient’s privacy—in the latest attempt to punish the doctor and her associates over a story that drew nationwide attention.

Key Facts

Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita filed a lawsuit in Indianapolis federal court Friday alleging Indiana University Health and IU Healthcare Associates violated state and federal law by standing by Dr. Caitlin Bernard, the doctor who told a newspaper reporter about the minor rape victim, who was denied an abortion in her home state of Ohio because of the state’s six-week abortion ban.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the Southern District of Indiana, says the hospital system has “created confusion” when it comes to patient privacy laws by inequitably punishing employees for violations, and asks a judge to order the hospital to update patient safeguards and pay for any injunctive relief or damages.

The lawsuit alleges the “hospital chose to protect the doctor and itself” over the privacy of the patient and should have punished Bernard for speaking out—the doctor is employed by IU Health Physicians and worked in the IU Health clinic at the time of the abortion.

Bernard was found to have breached the state’s privacy laws by India’s medical licensing board in May and ordered to pay a $3,000 fine, but the board rejected Rokita’s request to suspend her medical license and did not agree with the attorney general that she failed to report the child abuse case to the state’s Department of Child Services.

Bernard told the board she followed all of Indiana’s reporting requirements, informed the hospital’s social workers about the case and did not violate privacy laws because she didn’t release any identifying information about the minor.

Hospital system officials have continued to support Bernard and say she didn’t violate privacy laws; IU Health said in a statement to Forbes it was “disappointed the Indiana Attorney General’s office persists in putting the state’s limited resources toward this matter.”

Key Background

Bernard performed a medical abortion for the minor in June of 2022 and relayed her treatment to the Indianapolis Star, a story that drew national attention in the aftermath of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade the same month. At the time of the procedure, abortion was legal in Indiana but largely illegal in Ohio and, more than a year later, a 28-year-old man was sentenced to life in prison for raping the patient. Bernard’s story led to an investigation by Rokita, who said he was looking into whether Bernard reported the abortion to the state as required. Rokita, who is against abortion, accused the physician of violating state and federal law, and she hit back with a defamation lawsuit accusing him of trying to “unlawfully harass physicians and patients” who perform legal abortions. The public feud between Bernard and Rokita has only intensified since the initial investigation: The doctor has accused the AG of violating state laws that bar him from acting on “frivolous” consumer complaints and said his goal is to punish physicians’ livelihoods and limit the services they can provide.

Tangent

Indiana was the first state to approve abortion restrictions after Roe was overturned, per according to the AP. In August, a near-total abortion ban went into effect. Abortion is now permitted before 20 weeks of pregnancy in the case of a “lethal fetal anomaly” or to protect the health of the mother, and until 10 weeks of pregnancy in cases of rape or incest. All other abortions are now illegal in Indiana.

Crucial Quote

“A 10-year-old girl should be forced to give birth to a rapist’s child?” President Joe Biden said of the case. “I can’t think of anything as much more extreme.”

Further Reading

Doctor Reprimanded For Publicly Disclosing Abortion On 10-Year-Old Rape Victim (Forbes)

Indiana Doctor Who Helped 10-Year-Old Rape Victim Get Abortion Sues State AG Over ‘Sham Investigation’ (Forbes)

Indiana AG Asks Medical Board To Punish Doctor Who Helped 10-Year-Old Rape Victim Get Abortion (Forbes)

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