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Indiana reprimands doctor who revealed 10-year-old had an abortion

The Indiana Medical Licensing Board found Dr. Caitlin Bernard violated patient privacy law.
Indiana reprimands doctor who revealed 10-year-old had an abortion
Posted at 5:14 AM, May 26, 2023

After 14 hours of testimony, debate, and witness statements, the Indiana Licensing Board made a ruling on the case regarding Dr. Caitlin Bernard.

The hearing came in response to Attorney General Todd Rokita's complaint to the board that Bernard violated patient privacy laws and failed to report alleged abuse properly.

The board had to determine both things.

First, they looked at whether Bernard violated privacy laws when telling a member of the media about a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio traveling to Indiana to get an abortion.

The conversation took place at a reproductive rights rally in June 2022.

Then they looked at whether she violated abuse reporting laws in the state of Indiana when she knew the patient had been sexually abused.

During testimony throughout Thursday, the board heard from several witnesses, both on the state's side and Bernard's legal team. The state called an "expert" to the stand to discuss HIPAA and why he believed she violated the law.

Bernard's team did the same, but their "expert" shared how she did not release any protected information.

A social worker from IU Health was called to testify. She shared IU Health's procedure for reporting sexual abuse.

She stated that it is hospital policy for a social worker to report that abuse, and Bernard agreed.

Both of which said this happened immediately in this case.

SEE MORE: South Carolina's governor signs new law restricting abortion access

Bernard and her legal team also stated that Bernard knew that officials in Ohio were aware of the abuse, that law enforcement was involved, and that a DCS case in the state was already open.

The board decided unanimously that Bernard did in fact report the abuse properly and to the right authorities.

The charge the AG's office filed was dropped.

The board also unanimously agreed that Dr. Bernard was fit to practice. One board member shared that there is no question she is a great doctor with important expertise.

When asked during the testimony if Bernard believed the hearing Thursday would have taken place had she not spoken to a reporter, Bernard disagreed.

"I think that if the Attorney General Todd Rokita had not chosen to make this his political stunt, we wouldn't be here today," Bernard said.

Bernard expressed that, in her opinion, sharing the details she did about the patient was important due to her role as an advocate for reproductive health.

SEE MORE: More women join lawsuit against Texas' restrictive abortion law

"As part of my advocacy to support access to comprehensive reproductive health care, I felt it was important to understand that they were going to call a special session and there was a real possibility that they would pass an abortion ban in Indiana with absolutely no exceptions and that patients like this one would be forced to leave out of state for abortion care," Bernard said.

The board did find that Bernard violated patient privacy laws when she told a reporter details about the 10-year-old's case. The votes in matters about patient privacy were split, with the majority agreeing with the state.

The board found Bernard did so on three counts, at both the federal and state levels.

"Like we have said in the last year, this case was about patient privacy and the trust between the doctor and a patient that was broken. What if it was your child, your parent, or your sibling in a 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 that were presented today made that very clear," Kelly Stevenson from the Attorney General's Office stated.

Bernard was fined $1,000 per count (the maximum penalty allowed in the state), $3,000 total, and was given a letter of reprimand.

The letter of reprimand does not impact Bernard's ability to practice and care for patients.

"I think it's incredibly unfortunate, as the intimidation of Dr. Bernard sends a message that this can happen to any physician that's providing comprehensive evidence-based health care to their patients," Dr. Tracey Wilkinson, Bernard's colleague, said.

Bernard and her attorney did not provide a comment to the media after the proceedings.

Several of Bernard's colleagues sat throughout the entire proceeding and spoke to reporters after.

"It's terrible. As physicians, we are just trying to do the best things for our patients and their families, and this decision really calls into question our ability to do that," Dr. Caroline Rouse said.

Wilkinson said she believes Bernard did nothing wrong, regardless of the board's ruling.

"This sends a message to all doctors everywhere that political persecution can be happening to you next for providing health care to your patients," she said. "I think the one lesson I would say [I learned from all of this] is that you have to be incredibly brave and incredibly committed to your values and the things that you stand for because what happened today could happen to any of us."

SEE MORE: Judges to hear arguments on federal abortion pill appeal

When asked how she would describe Bernard, Wilkinson said, "Dr. Bernard is the most compassionate health care provider. I would send my daughter to her, and any family or friend that I have that I know needs her care. I would tell them not to look or pay attention to the politicization that happened today and that's been happening for the last year, and trust me when I say she is incredibly good at her job and the best person that they could get care from."

Some of Bernard's colleagues said they felt the hearing was a disappointment.

"We've been here for 13 hours listening to our friend and our colleague be put on trial for taking care of her patient and providing evidence-based health care, and that is incredibly demoralizing as a physician," Rouse said.

Rokita's office said they are pleased with the time that the board took to hear the matter.

"We appreciate the medical licensing boards extraordinary time and consideration. Our team did a great job at creating and getting out the truth, Stevenson said.

The board will issue a final order based on the complaints and sanctions within 90 days.

After that is filed, both parties have 30 days to appeal with a motion to the Marion County Superior Court.

This story was originally published by Kaitlyn Kendall for Scripps News Indianapolis.

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