The Indiana state medical board has ruled that it will allow Dr Caitlin Bernard to continue practicing in Indiana after she spoke out about a 10-year-old rape victim who traveled to Indiana for abortion care due to restrictions in the girl’s own state of Ohio.
The doctor will not lose her license, although the seven-person board ruled that Bernard violated patient privacy laws in discussing the 10-year-old’s case with media. Bernard was not found to have violated reporting requirements about child abuse in the case – another charge against her.
The board was asked by the state attorney general to discipline Bernard last summer, in a nationally watched case that has drawn accusations of being motivated by anti-abortion politics.
On Thursday, the board weighed whether to reprimand Bernard over her alleged conduct, including whether to revoke or temporarily suspend her medical license, in a theatrical and emotional hearing that lasted several hours. During the hearing, counsel for Indiana’s attorney general, Todd Rokita, repeatedly asked Bernard about her personal views in a case that was supposed to centre on privacy laws – asking Bernard whether she had a coat hanger tattoo on her ankle and whether she considered herself a reproductive rights advocate.
The board found Bernard violated privacy laws, and unanimously agreed that she did not violate reporting requirements, another charge against her. Bernard will now pay $3,000 in fines and receive a letter of reprimand.
“Like we have said for a year, this case was about patient privacy and the trust between the doctor and patient that was broken,” said Rokita in a statement. “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?”
When Indiana passed its own abortion ban in September 2022, Bernard’s experience and testimony was pivotal in getting rape and incest exceptions added to the law.
Dr Bernard has drawn a mixture of praise and condemnation for highlighting the child’s case and the real-life impact of abortion bans – she was personally called by the vice-president, Kamala Harris, last year, who thanked the doctor for speaking out.
Rokita initially accused Bernard of fabricating the story, and then of exploiting the 10-year-old’s trauma for her own interests. The attorney general then opened an investigation into Bernard’s conduct, accusing her of breaking state law by not reporting the child’s abuse and of violating patient privacy protections. Bernard subsequently sued the attorney general, claiming he tarnished her reputation by opening a baseless investigation into her.
During questioning, Dr Bernard said she felt it was important to speak publicly about the real-life impacts of abortion bans, and maintained that she never publicly spoke out about any details that could have identified the girl in the case. Her lawyers maintain that it was press statements by Rotika’s team that intensified a media search for the 10-year-old, impacting on her privacy.
The makeup of the board for Thursday’s hearing has drawn scrutiny from local press – for including a number of members appointed by the attorney general who have donated to his campaign.
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