Indiana doctor fined for talking about abortion in Ohio
INDIANAPOLIS. On Thursday night, the Indiana state board decided to issue a reprimand to an Indianapolis doctor after it found she violated patient privacy laws by publicly revealing she had an abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim from neighboring Ohio.
The state’s Medical Licensing Board voted to stop Dr. Caitlin Bernard from complying with privacy laws when she told a newspaper reporter about the treatment of a girl in a case that became a flashpoint in the nationwide abortion debate days after The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the decision against Rowe. Wade last summer.
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The board, however, dismissed charges by the Indiana Republican Attorney General that Bernard had violated state law by failing to report child abuse to Indiana authorities. The board members decided to fine Bernard $3,000 for the violations, denying prosecutors’ request to suspend Bernard’s license. The Board did not impose any restrictions on her medical practice.
Bernard has consistently defended her actions, and on Thursday she told the board of directors that she was following Indiana’s reporting requirements and hospital policies for notifying hospital social workers of child abuse, and that Ohio authorities are already investigating the girl’s rape. Bernard’s lawyers also said she did not divulge any identifying information about the girl that would violate privacy laws.
The Indianapolis Star cited the girl’s case in a July 1 article that sparked national political outcry weeks after the Roe v. Wade decision last summer enacted an Ohio law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. Some news outlets and Republican politicians falsely assumed that Bernard had fabricated the story until a 27-year-old man was charged with rape in Columbus, Ohio. During an event at the White House, President Joe Biden nearly shouted out his outrage at the affair.
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Medical Council President Dr. John Strobel said he thought Bernard had gone too far by telling a reporter about the girl’s impending abortion and that doctors should be careful about respecting patient confidentiality.
“I don’t think she expected it to go viral,” Strobel said of Bernard. “I don’t think she expected this attention to be drawn to this patient. And so it was. It happened.”
Bernard’s attorney, Alice Morikal, told the council Thursday that the doctor reported child abuse to patients many times a year and that the hospital’s social worker confirmed to Ohio child protection officials that it was safe for the girl to leave with her mother.
“Doctor. Bernard could not have imagined that this story would be subjected to an atypical and thorough analysis,” Morikal said. “She didn’t expect the politicians to say she made up the story.”
In the wake of the girl’s case last summer, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, who is vehemently opposed to abortion, told Fox News he was investigating Bernard’s actions and called her “an abortion activist acting as a doctor.”
Deputy Attorney General Cory Voight said Thursday the board needs to address what he called a “flagrant violation” of a patient’s privacy and Bernard’s failure to notify the Indiana Department of Children’s Services and police of the rape.
“There was no such thing on the board of directors,” Voight said. “No physician has been so brazenly pursuing his own goals.”
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Voight asked Bernard why she discussed the case of the Ohio girl with a newspaper reporter and later in interviews with other media rather than using a hypothetical situation.
“I think it’s incredibly important for people to understand the real impact of this country’s abortion laws,” Bernard said. “I think it’s important for people to know what patients will have to go through because of the legislation that’s being passed, and hypothetical assumptions don’t matter that much.”
Board member Dr. Bharat Barai objected to the conclusion that Bernard violated privacy laws, saying that she did not divulge directly protected identifying information such as the girl’s name or address. He disagreed with the board’s majority opinion that the combination of information about a rare case of a pregnant 10-year-old girl could reveal her identity.
“We’re trying to speculate that yes, it could have been done and maybe someone could have discovered it,” Barai said.
During Thursday’s hearing, which lasted for about 13 hours, Rokita’s office constantly commented on her official Twitter account, one message said: “When Bernard spoke about her prioritization of legislation and public relations, she did it own patient account. This shows her priorities as an activist, not a doctor.”
Bernard countered Voight, stating that her decision to discuss the case publicly led to allegations of misconduct.
“I think if Attorney General Todd Rokita hadn’t decided to make this his political stunt, we wouldn’t be here today,” Bernard said.
Lawyers at the Attorney General’s Office have repeatedly raised questions about whether it is under Indiana law for Bernard’s employer, Indiana Health University, to report suspected child abuse to authorities in the state where the abuse occurred. Officials at IU Health, the state’s largest hospital system, said the Indiana Department of Children’s Affairs has never objected to the hospital policy.
The Indiana State Board, which consists of five physicians and one attorney who were appointed or reappointed by Republican Governor Eric Holcomb, has had broad discretion under state law to issue letters of reprimand or suspend, recall, or place on probation. doctor’s license term.
Ohio’s near-ban on abortion ran for about two months before being suspended as the lawsuit against it ended. The Republican-dominated Indiana Legislature approved a statewide abortion ban weeks after the Ohio girl’s case gained attention, but abortion is still legal in the state pending the Indiana Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the ban.
Bernard tried unsuccessfully to block Rokita’s investigation last fall, although an Indianapolis judge wrote that Rokita committed “clearly unlawful violations” of state privacy laws by making public comments about the doctor’s investigation before filing a medical license complaint against her.