Dr. Caitlin Bernard faced repercussions from Indiana’s Medical Licensing Board following a complaint filed by the state’s Republican attorney general regarding her public comments about providing an abortion for a 10-year-old rape victim. The board found her guilty of violating privacy laws and imposed a fine of $3,000 along with the reprimand.
During the hearing on Thursday, Bernard defended her decision to speak out about the case, emphasizing the need for the public to comprehend the real-world consequences of the country’s abortion legislation. She stated, “I think it’s important for people to know what patients will have to go through because of legislation that is being passed.”
The controversy emerged after Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, a staunch opponent of abortion rights, criticized Bernard for openly discussing the medication abortion she performed on the girl who traveled from Ohio to Indiana due to her state’s abortion ban. Ohio’s law does not provide exceptions for cases of rape or incest.
Bernard’s comments were featured in a news story by an Indianapolis Star reporter shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision overturning long-standing abortion-rights precedent. Rokita publicly condemned Bernard, alleging that she had failed to comply with Indiana’s reporting requirements for abortions. However, state health officials later refuted this claim. Rokita subsequently initiated an investigation into Bernard’s actions and filed a complaint with the Medical Licensing Board, accusing her of breaching patient privacy laws and neglecting to report the girl’s sexual assault to Indiana authorities.
During the hearing, the board dismissed one charge of violating patient privacy laws and another count that would have declared Bernard unfit to practice medicine. Cory Voight, an attorney representing Rokita’s office, suggested that Bernard had spoken out to advance her own agenda and criticized her for engaging in media appearances to further her cause.
Bernard and her lawyer asserted that she had not disclosed any protected patient information and had collaborated with hospital staff to ensure proper investigation by law enforcement authorities. Alice Morical, Bernard’s attorney, stressed that physicians have the right to communicate with the media. She stated, “The question here and what is charged is that… Dr. Bernard shared protected health information. And the evidence will show that she did not share protected health information or violate the Indiana confidentiality regulation.”
The board also heard testimonies from witnesses, including hospital staff from the Indiana University Health system, who confirmed that Bernard followed the institution’s reporting protocols for abuse victims. Social worker Stephanie Shook affirmed that Bernard was aware of ongoing communication between hospital officials and authorities in Ohio.
A review conducted last year by Indiana University Health, where Bernard is employed, concluded that she had adhered to patient privacy laws.
Notably, The Indianapolis Star reported this week that two members of the seven-member board had made contributions to Rokita’s political campaigns. Although Rokita did not attend the hearing, he shared updates on Twitter throughout the day, as the proceedings were streamed online.
While abortion remains legal in Indiana at present, Governor Eric Holcomb, a Republican, signed a near-total abortion ban in August. However, the law is currently on hold pending a legal challenge before the state Supreme Court.