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Indiana doctor faces discipline hearing over 10-year-old Ohio girl’s abortion

May 24, 2023, 11:07 PM | Updated: May 25, 2023, 9:36 am

FILE - Dr. Caitlin Bernard, a reproductive healthcare provider, speaks during an abortion rights ra...

FILE - Dr. Caitlin Bernard, a reproductive healthcare provider, speaks during an abortion rights rally on June 25, 2022, at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. An Indiana board is set to hear allegations Thursday, May 25, 2023, that Bernard, an Indianapolis doctor should face disciplinary action after she spoke publicly about providing an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim from neighboring Ohio. (Jenna Watson/The Indianapolis Star via AP, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Jenna Watson/The Indianapolis Star via AP, File)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A hearing on possible disciplinary action opened Thursday for an Indianapolis doctor who spoke publicly about providing an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio, with finger pointing over how the case became a political flashpoint in the national abortion debate.

Indiana’s Republican attorney general has accused Dr. Caitlin Bernard of violating state law by not reporting the girl’s child abuse to Indiana authorities. She’s also accused of breaking federal patient privacy laws by telling a newspaper reporter about the girl’s treatment.

Bernard and her attorneys maintain that the doctor followed Indiana’s child abuse reporting requirements to hospital staff and that the girl’s rape was already being investigated by Ohio authorities. Bernard’s lawyers also say she didn’t release any identifying information about the girl that would break privacy laws.

The Indianapolis Star cited the girl’s case in a July 1 article that charged with the rape in Columbus, Ohio.

Bernard’s lawyer Alice Morical told the state Medical Licensing Board board Thursday that the doctor reported child abuse of patients many times a year and that a hospital social worker had confirmed with Ohio’s child protection office that it was safe for the girl to leave with her mother.

“Dr. Bernard could not have anticipated the atypical and intense scrutiny that this story received,” Morical said. “She did not expect that politicians would say that she made the story up.”

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita’s complaint asked the licensing board to impose “appropriate disciplinary action” but doesn’t specify a requested penalty.

Amid the wave of attention to the girl’s case last summer, Rokita, who is stridently anti-abortion, told Fox News he would investigate Bernard’s actions, calling her an “abortion activist acting as a doctor.”

Deputy Attorney General Cory Voight argued Thursday that the board must address what he called an “egregious violation” of patient privacy and Bernard’s failure to notify Indiana’s 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.”

The Indiana board — made up of six doctors and one attorney appointed or reappointed by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb — could vote whether to impose any penalties Thursday after hearing what is expected to be several hours of testimony. State law gives the board wide latitude, allowing it to issue reprimand letters or suspend, revoke or place on probation a doctor’s license.

Ohio’s law imposing a near-ban on abortion was in effect for about two months, before being put on hold as a decision on the ban’s constitutionality.

Bernard unsuccessfully tried to block Rokita’s investigation last fall, although an Indianapolis judge wrote that Rokita made “clearly unlawful breaches” of state confidentiality laws with his public comments about investigating the doctor before filing the medical licensing complaint against her.

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Indiana doctor faces discipline hearing over 10-year-old Ohio girl’s abortion