A doctor was reprimanded and fined by Indiana officials on May 25 for disclosing details about an abortion she performed on a 10-year-old.
Dr. Caitlin Bernard didn’t abide by privacy laws when she told a newspaper reporter about the abortion, according to Indiana’s Medical Licensing Board.
The board, however, rejected accusations from Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita that Bernard violated state law by not reporting the child abuse to Indiana authorities.
Board members turned down a request from the attorney general’s office to suspend Bernard’s license and did not restrict Bernard’s practice of medicine. They fined Bernard $3,000 for the violations.
“Thanks to my amazing team, the abortion doctor got the maximum civil fine for violating three counts of privacy laws and received a public reprimand to go into a national database,” Rokita said in a statement.
Bernard and one of her lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.
Bernard, who has consistently defended her actions, told the board that she followed Indiana’s reporting requirements and hospital policy by notifying hospital social workers about the child abuse. The doctor’s lawyers said that she didn’t release any identifying information about the girl that would break privacy laws.
The 10-year-old’s situation was reported by the Indianapolis Star on July 1, 2022, one day after the abortion was performed and several weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade. That ruling triggered a law in Ohio that barred abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, prompting the girl to travel for the abortion.
The girl who received the abortion was raped by an illegal immigrant in Ohio, authorities there said. Gerson Fuentes, the illegal alien, lived in the same home as the girl. A trial for Fuentes, who has pleaded not guilty, has not yet taken place.
Bernard reported the abortion to the Indiana Department of Health shortly after performing the procedure, in line with state law. Several details were wrong or missing, including the age of the father of the child and his immigration status. She also did not report the case to Indiana’s Department of Child Services or police, according to Rokita’s office.
Rokita, a Republican, publicly questioned whether Bernard followed state law on reporting and said that his office was investigating the matter. A judge later found that Rokita violated state law by disclosing the investigation.
Rokita also said Bernard may have violated privacy law. Her employer, Indiana University, concluded that she did not violate federal privacy law, but the Medical Licensing Board on Thursday concluded that Bernard went too far in telling a reporter about the girl’s pending abortion and that physicians need to be careful about observing patient privacy.
“I don’t think she expected this attention to be brought to this patient. It did. It happened,” Dr. John Strobel, president of the board, said.
The board said that Bernard disclosing the girl’s circumstances and her age could have led to her identity being exposed.
Bernard told the Star that she received a call from a child abuse doctor in Ohio who shared that he had a 10-year-old patient who was six weeks and three days pregnant, and that the girl was going to Indiana to see Bernard.
Rokita said the 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,” he added.
Dr. Bharat Barai, a board member, dissented from the majority.
“We are trying to suppose that yeah this could have been done and maybe somebody could have discovered it,” Barai said.
The Indiana board—with five doctors and one attorney present who were appointed or reappointed by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb—had wide latitude under state law allowing it to issue reprimand letters or suspend, revoke, or place on probation a doctor’s license.
Alice Morical, a lawyer representing Bernard, said that the doctor “could not have anticipated the atypical and intense scrutiny that this story received.” President Joe Biden cited the case during remarks at the White House, sparking speculation that the story was made up until Fuentes was arrested.
Deputy Attorney General Cory Voight argued during the hearing that the board needed to address what he called an “egregious violation” of patient privacy and Bernard’s failure to notify the state Department of Child Services and police about the rape.
“There’s been no case like this before the board,” Voight said. “No physician has been as brazen in pursuit of their own agenda.”
Voight asked Bernard why she discussed the Ohio girl’s case with the newspaper reporter and later in other news media interviews rather than using a hypothetical situation.
“I think that it’s incredibly important for people to understand the real-world impacts of the laws of this country about abortion,” Bernard said. “I think it’s important for people to know what patients will have to go through because of legislation that is being passed, and a hypothetical does not make that impact.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.