(Trends Wide) — An Indianapolis doctor who publicly disclosed that she provided abortion services to a 10-year-old rape victim in Ohio last year was reprimanded and fined by the Indiana medical licensing board after it was determined that the disclosure violated federal and state patient privacy laws.
The board on Thursday found OB/GYN Dr. Caitlin Bernard liable on three counts of violating patient privacy laws after Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita filed a complaint against her in November .
However, the board dismissed two other allegations in the complaint, finding it did not violate laws that require physicians to immediately report suspected child abuse and to stay abreast of mandatory reporting and patient privacy laws.
Bernard will be fined $3,000 and receive a warning letter, according to the board, which has agreed to allow her to continue to practice medicine.
The complaint alleged that Bernard violated patient privacy law by discussing the girl’s case without the consent of the patient or a guardian — including without using her name — over the summer with the Indianapolis Star.
The revelation of why the Ohio girl made her medical trip to Indiana, days after the US Supreme Court reversed the ruling in Roe v. Wade and ending federal abortion rights, helped Bernard become part of the national abortion rights debate in the county.
Bernard told Trends Wide last year that he provided abortion services to the girl in late June, and that the girl traveled to Indiana for the procedure because Ohio, following the Roe ruling, generally prohibited abortions after to detect early cardiac activity, which is around six weeks of pregnancy. The girl was six weeks and three days pregnant, according to Bernard.
At the time of the intervention, Indiana allowed abortion up to 20 weeks after fertilization. Since then, the state has enacted a law that prohibits abortion at all stages of pregnancy, with limited exceptions in case of rape or incest or to save the life of the woman, prevent any serious risk to the health of the woman, and in case of lethal fetal abnormalities.
The case quickly became a flash point in the post-Roe standoff over abortion rights. Several Republican politicians and media outlets were initially skeptical of Bernard’s claims, until a man was accused of raping the girl and an Ohio detective testified that the girl had miscarried in Indianapolis.
The president of Indiana’s medical licensing board spoke Thursday of supporting a sanction against Bernard.
“My reason for recommending a letter of reprimand would be that I don’t think she expected this to go viral,” board chairman Dr. John Strobel said during deliberations. “I don’t think she expected so much attention to be paid to this patient.”
“But I do think that we as physicians need to be more careful in this situation,” Strobel said. “I think she’s a good doctor. I think she can go back to practice.”
Cory Voight, co-director of the Office of the Attorney General’s Complex Litigation Division, said the complaint centered on Bernard’s decision “to speak about his patient to a reporter from Indiana’s largest newspaper.”
“The effect of that decision is that the whole world, the country, found out about their patient. They found out that a girl, 10 years old, was raped and had an abortion,” Voight said, in his opening remarks.
The complaint asked the licensing board to impose “appropriate disciplinary action” but did not request a specific penalty.
Bernard’s lawyer dismissed Rokita’s complaint as a “desperate attempt to intimidate” her and other abortion providers. Bernard maintained that he did not divulge protected details about the girl.
“I did not disclose any protected health information. I complied with all HIPAA and patient confidentiality laws [la ley federal sobre privacidad y seguridad de los datos e información médica protegida], “To the best of my knowledge,” Bernard said Thursday. “And again, there was no information that I released that would lead to her being identified.”
Bernard’s employer, Indiana University Health, said in July that it had reviewed the case and determined that the doctor was “in compliance with privacy laws.”
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Bernard was exonerated of responsibility for violation of the obligation to report child abuse
The complaint alleged that Bernard failed to follow proper child abuse reporting procedures to Indiana authorities after abortion services were performed.
Following deliberations Thursday, the state medical board concluded that Bernard did not violate procedures and found her not liable.
Bernard told the board that he immediately notified a hospital social worker of the possible abuse. The social worker stated that she contacted officials in Ohio, where the rape occurred, and that authorities were already investigating the case.
Bernard reported the abortion procedure to the Indiana Department of Health on July 2, two days after it was performed, as required by the department, according to agency documents obtained by Trends Wide.
Bernard told the licensing board Thursday that he had also submitted the report, alleging abuse, to the Indiana Department of Children’s Services. The department previously declined to publicly confirm whether it received a report from Bernard, citing confidentiality law.
— Trends Wide’s Elizabeth Wolfe and Kiely Westhoff contributed to this report.