The Indiana Medical Licensing Board found Caitlin Bernard, an IU Health OB-GYN who provided abortion care to a 10-year-old girl from Ohio in July 2022, violated state and federal privacy laws in a hearing Thursday. Bernard will receive a letter of reprimand and a $3,000 fine for charges related to treatment she provided but no harsher punishment.
The board decided in a 4-1 vote that Bernard violated patient confidentiality laws when she told an Indianapolis Star reporter she would provide an abortion to the patient, who had traveled to Indiana after Ohio’s six-week abortion ban went into effect.
[Related: Federal court upholds second-trimester abortion ban in Indiana]
However, the medical licensing board also unanimously ruled against a complaint from Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita — who did not attend Thursday’s hearing — that Bernard failed to report the procedure and was unfit to practice.
Indiana Medical Licensing Board president John Strobel said in the hearing he believed Bernard was “a good doctor” and was safe to continue practicing but told Indiana physicians to be cautious when discussing medical cases and their patients.
In the hearing Thursday, Bernard said she spoke to the Indianapolis Star reporter about the case because she wanted people to understand the impact of state abortion laws, which took effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022. Bernard’s lawyer, Alice Morical, said Bernard did not disclose any protected health information and worked with hospital staff to report the case to law enforcement officials.
[Related: Indiana Supreme Court to hear arguments in abortion ban challenge]
Attorney for the Attorney General’s Office Cory Voight said in the hearing he believed Bernard spoke to the reporter to further a political agenda.
Indiana lawmakers passed a near-total abortion ban in August 2022, but the law is currently being challenged in the state Supreme Court.
History of Bernard’s case
Bernard came under national attention this past year after she spoke out about providing abortion care to a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio in July 2022. The patient had traveled from Ohio to Indiana for abortion care after Ohio’s six-week abortion ban went into effect.
Shortly after the publication of an Indianapolis Star story reporting that Bernard had provided the abortion, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita said on Fox News he would investigate her record and alleged Bernard may have failed to report the procedure in time. In the same broadcast, Rokita alleged Bernard had a history of failing to report procedures but did not provide any evidence.
In Indiana, a doctor who performs an abortion on someone under 16 years old is required to report the procedure within three days. However, Indiana Department of Health and Department of Child Services records confirm Bernard had reported the procedure within this required time frame. An IU Health investigation also found Bernard complied with privacy laws.
[Related: IU Health doctor caught in national debate in 10-year-old rape victim abortion]
Following Rokita’s appearance in the broadcast, Bernard’s attorney filed a cease-and-desist requesting Rokita to stop making false and misleading statements, arguing the claims were defamatory.
Rokita’s office filed a complaint against Bernard — alleging the doctor violated patient privacy rights — to the Indiana Medical Licensing Board Nov. 30, 2022. The complaint was based on consumer complaints from people who were not Bernard’s patients or colleagues, according to Indiana Public Radio. Bernard filed a lawsuit shortly after seeking to stop Rokita from accessing patient medical records and continuing the investigation.
On Dec. 5, 2022, Marion County Judge Heather Welch ruled Rokita violated the law by publicly discussing the investigation into Bernard’s records before his office officially filed a complaint with the Indiana Medical Licensing Board. Rokita appeared on Fox News July 13, 2022, and officially filed a complaint with the medical licensing board Nov. 30, 2022. However, Welch also denied Bernard’s request to stop Rokita’s investigation, stating the investigation was now under control of the Indiana Medical Licensing Board.
[Related: Dr. Caitlin Bernard sues Indiana AG Todd Rokita over patient records in abortion case]
Bernard dropped her lawsuit against Rokita Dec. 8, 2022, her lawyer stating Bernard’s legal team would focus on his complaint with the licensing board.
The Indiana Citizen confirmed Rokita was being investigated by the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission Feb 8. 2023. An Indiana Supreme Court filing does not specifically state what the commission is investigating the attorney general for, but that it is related to the case involving Bernard among other cases.
Rokita challenged Welch’s ruling that he violated state law by discussing Bernard’s case before filing an official complaint with the Indiana Medical Licensing Board April 11, 2023. Rokita’s lawyers argued the ruling could affect public perception of the attorney general and could be used in the medical licensing board proceedings. Rokita’s lawyers also stated if the conclusion of the ruling was revised in order to state Rokita did not break state law, the attorney general's office would settle for the dismissal of the case. Rokita dropped the challenge April 24, 2023.
[Related: IU Health doctor drops lawsuit against Indiana AG Todd Rokita]