INDIANAPOLIS– An Indiana doctor’s attorney at the center of a political storm after speaking out about a 10-year-old child abuse victim who traveled from Ohio for an abortion said Thursday his client had provided appropriate treatment and had not violated any patient confidentiality laws in discussing the case of the unidentified girl.
Attorney Kathleen DeLaney released the statement on behalf of Indianapolis obstetrician-gynecologist Caitlin Bernard the same day Republican Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita said his office was investigating Bernard’s actions. He made no specific allegations of wrongdoing.
A 27-year-old man was charged Wednesday in Columbus, Ohio with the girl’s rape, confirming a case initially met with skepticism by some Republican media and politicians. The pushback intensified after Democratic President Joe Biden expressed empathy for the girl when signing an executive order last week aimed at protecting certain access to abortion following the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court striking down constitutional abortion protection.
Bernard’s attorney said the doctor “took all appropriate and appropriate actions consistent with the law and his medical and ethical training as a physician.”
“She followed all relevant policies, procedures and regulations in this case, as she does every day to provide the best possible care to her patients,” DeLaney said in a statement. “She did not break any laws, including patient confidentiality laws, and she was not disciplined by her employer.”
Bernard reported a medical abortion on June 30 for a 10-year-old patient to the state health department on July 2, within the three days required by state law for a girl under 16, according to a report obtained by The Indianapolis Star and WXIN-TV of Indianapolis through public records requests. The report said the girl seeking an abortion had been abused.
DeLaney said they were considering taking legal action against “those who smeared my client,” including Rokita, who said he would investigate whether Bernard violated the child abuse notice or the abortion reporting laws. He also said his office would review whether anything Bernard told the Star about the case violated federal medical confidentiality laws. The US Department of Health and Human Services would not say whether any privacy complaints have been filed against Bernard, nor will Indiana University Health, where Bernard is an obstetrician. But the HIPAA Privacy Rule only protects most “individually identifiable health information,” the department’s website said.
The district attorney in Indianapolis, where the abortion took place, said his office alone has the authority to bring criminal charges in such situations and that Bernard was “subjected to intimidation and bullying”.
“I think it’s really dangerous when law enforcement starts trying to launch a criminal investigation based on internet rumors,” said Marion County Democratic District Attorney Ryan Mears.
Some Republicans who supported the tough abortion restrictions imposed in Ohio after the Supreme Court ruling, including Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, initially wondered if the story relayed by Bernard to the newspaper was real. After telling Fox News on Monday that there was not “a whisper” of evidence to support the existence of the case, Yost said his “heart aches for the pain suffered by this young child” and that his investigation unit was ready to support the police in this case.
On Thursday, Yost faced intense backlash for her public statements, including a claim that medical exceptions in Ohio’s “fetal heartbeat” abortion ban would have allowed the girl to get an abortion in the state.
Apparently in response, he released a “legal explainer” detailing the law’s medical exceptions. Abortion rights advocates and lawyers have said the law’s medical exceptions — for the life of the mother, serious risk of bodily harm and ectopic pregnancy — would not have protected a doctor from abortion. ‘Ohio who performed abortion for daughter against prosecution.
Bernard did not respond to emails and text messages from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Carr Smyth reported from Columbus, Ohio.