Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita (above) on Wednesday sent a complaint against an Indianapolis-based doctor who is at the center of a controversial abortion case to the Indiana Medical Licensing Board.
The Republican attorney general said in a statement that Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an OB-GYN, “failed to immediately report the abuse and rape of a child to Indiana authorities” after performing the abortion on a 10-year-old girl from Ohio in June.
“Here, only Indiana authorities could have possibly stopped this little girl from being sent home to endure possible future harm by her alleged rapist,” Rokita said in a written statement.
But courtroom testimony and evidence appears to show Bernard communicated with Ohio authorities even before she administered abortion-inducing medication. She also notified the Indiana Department of Child Services a few days after the abortion.
Rokita additionally said Bernard “failed to uphold legal and Hippocratic responsibilities” by “exploiting a 10-year-old little girl’s traumatic medical story to the press for her own interests.”
The investigation of Bernard and her medical partner Dr. Amy Caldwell prompted a lawsuit from the doctors against the attorney general earlier this month. Lawyers for the doctors are trying to block Rokita’s office from accessing the abortion patients’ medical records, and also prevent future “unchecked oversteps” by the attorney general.
Marion County Superior Court Judge Heather Welch held an emergency hearing on an injunction request last week, following an earlier one days before that. Bernard was among those who testified in court.
Kathleen DeLaney, Bernard’s lawyer, has maintained the complaints that prompted the attorney general’s initial investigation are “frivolous” and that Bernard followed all legal and professional protocols.
“The Administrative Action filed today by Mr. Rokita is clearly a last-ditch effort to intimidate Dr. Bernard and other providers of abortion care. The evidence and testimony from last week’s hearing confirmed that Dr. Bernard complied with all reporting requirements, cooperated with law enforcement officials, and discussed a case example only in a de-identified way, within the bounds of applicable privacy laws,” DeLaney said in a statement Wednesday, following Rokita’s announcement.
“Mr. Rokita is doubling down on the frivolous consumer complaints by referring them to the licensing authorities. Though I am disappointed he has put my client in this position, we are not surprised given Mr. Rokita’s consistent efforts to use his office to seek to punish those with whom he disagrees at the expense of Indiana taxpayers.”
Attorneys for the state concede that Bernard submitted a terminated pregnancy report on time, but emphasized that the doctor should have “immediately” reported to Indiana DCS or local law enforcement her reason to believe that an underage patient was a victim of abuse or neglect.
The attorney general’s office said in court filings that the immediacy requirement for reporting abuse conveys “a required strong sense of urgency in action and primacy of purpose in fulfilling the duty to report.” That could mean a need to report such abuse within “hours” of first meeting with the patient.
The law doesn’t define what “immediately” means, however.
Legal documents obtained by the Indiana Capital Chronicle, as well as Bernard’s court filings, say she submitted the terminated pregnancy report to Indiana DCS within three days after the abortion.
In her email notification to Indiana DCS, Bernard indicated that the case “was already reported through DCS in Ohio.” Speaking on the stand last week, Bernard doubled down, saying she communicated and cooperated with law enforcement officials in Ohio from the time she was notified by an Ohio physician seeking help with the child’s case. That was days before Bernard said she first met with the patient in-person.
Further, Katharine Melnick, who supervises the special victims unit at the Marion County Prosecutor’s office in Indianapolis, testified last week that she would not expect a doctor in Bernard’s situation to report the child abuse to local police or DCS.
“Based on the physician’s own testimony under oath, she violated federal and Indiana law related to patient privacy and the reporting of child abuse,” Rokita said Wednesday. “This case is not about whether an abortion was performed. It also is not about the Office exposing anyone’s medical file. Those were arguments designed to thwart our investigation into the physician’s behavior.
The attorney general’s office told the Indiana Capital Chronicle Wednesday it will not pursue an emergency suspension of Bernard’s medical license.
Still, the Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA) on Wednesday admonished Rokita for “continuing his relentless attack on an abortion provider for simply doing her job.”
“Anti-abortion Republican extremism is on full display in the Indiana AG office. Todd Rokita continues to be a disgrace,” said DAGA’s Deputy Communications Director Emily Trifone. “This game that Republican AGs play by putting politics over people to boost their personal agenda is dangerous and needs to end.”
It’s not yet clear when the Indiana Medical Licensing Board will take up the complaint against Bernard. A request for comment from the Indiana Capital Chronicle was not returned Wednesday.
Welch is expected to make a ruling on Bernard’s request for a preliminary injunction this week.