The Indiana Board of Medical Licensing decided late Thursday to fine a doctor whomade headlines last yearfor aborting a 10-year-old Ohio rape victim, claiming she violated state and federal privacy laws by discussing the matter with a reporter. The board reprimanded Caitlin Bernard, a midwife/gynecologist and assistant professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine, and ordered her to pay a $3,000 fine for violating ethical standards.
The court acquitted Bernarda of two further charges in the indictment, finding that she had not filed a false child abuse report and was fit to practice medicine.
For almost a year, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita (right) sought a sentence for Bernard, who executedmiscarriagein June 2022, less than a week laterRoe vs Wadehe was overthrown and exercised his dismissal laws.
Bernard violated patient privacy laws by telling an Indianapolis Star reporter about the patient's care, the board decided Thursday night after an approximately 14-hour hearing that ended shortly after 11:30 p.m. Bernarda's lawyers argued that she properly reported the incident to an Indiana University health care professional and did not violate privacy laws when she discussed the patient's case in a generic and "anonymous" manner typical of physicians.
Files obtained by The Washington Post last year show that Bernard reported the girl's abortion to relevant government agencies ahead of the statutory deadline that the board agreed to Thursday night to clear her of charges related to the case.
In statements made after the board's decision, Rokityna and Bernard's lawyers consider the verdict a victory.
Rokitain a statementLate Thursday night, he praised the board's decision to punish Bernard.
"As we've been saying for a year, this case was about patient privacy and broken trust between doctor and patient," he said. "What if it was your child, parent, or sibling who was going through a delicate medical crisis, and a doctor you thought was on your side escaped the press for political reasons?"
Bernard's legal team, led by Alice Morical, called the board's decision exculpatory, although they "strongly" disagree with the reprimand.
"The Medical Board has acquitted Dr. Bernard of the most serious and completely baseless allegations made by State Attorney Rokita: (1) that Dr. Bernard allegedly failed to report child abuse, and (2) that Dr. Bernard is "unfit" to practice medicine," Morical said on Friday. statement. "The chairman of the board even called Dr. Bernard 'a good doctor.'
Indiana University Health, Bernard's employer, also issued a statement disagreeing with the board's decision to violate HIPAA, saying, "We believe Dr. Bernard complied with privacy laws."
Bernardo's lawyers rejected Rokita's allegations as baseless and politically motivated. The seven-member appointed member of the Board of Directors, by majority vote, could either take no action against Bernard or impose a series of disciplinary measures, including the immediate revocation of Bernard's medical license.
During the lengthy questioning, Bernard was sometimes asked harsh questions about her decisions.
She explained that as a doctor, she felt she had an "responsibility" to make sure Hoosiers understood how abortion bans were affecting people across the country - and how they might ultimately affect them.
Bernarda was also asked if she thought she would "get so much attention" if she hadn't told a journalist about the case of the 10-year-old patient.
"I don't think anyone would view this story any differently than any other interview I've ever given if it wasn't politicized as it has been by public figures in our state and Ohio," said Bernard.
She arranged for the abortion of a 10-year-old girl. He still fights for his patients.
Cory Voight, an attorney at Rokita, described Bernarda's actions as undermining trust in doctors and medical privacy, accusing her of "insolence in pursuing her own cause" in her opening statement Thursday.
“It's about privacy and trust. Privacy, as you know, is at the heart of healthcare. It's something patients rely on," Voight said.
Morical was unequivocal in her opening statement that Bernard followed Indiana policy and law.
"Dr. Bernard could not have anticipated the unusual and intense criticism of this story," Morical said. “She didn't expect politicians to say she made this story up. She didn't expect people to say the reporter didn't have enough information. The politicization of it [is] what has made this issue escalate and take center stage.
On Thursday, several doctors in white coats entered the hearing room to support Bernard.
The trial lasted until the evening, with witnesses testifying in person and online.
Rokita's office drew the attention of local journalists with its unusual move to bring in an outside attorney from a Washington law firm for a hearing before the physician licensing board. While his deputies argued on behalf of the state, Rokita was not present at Thursday's hearing - but seemed to be watching from a distancewhen he tweeted the comments.
The questioning focused on whether Bernard had violated medical privacy laws. State witness and privacy expert Andrew Mahler said he believed Bernard had violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPAA.
Mahler, who worked at the Federal Bureau of Civil Rights, said that Bernard violated HIPAA when he told a fellow general the details of the case in a meeting, and when she did the same to a reporter, revealing information that Mahler believed might have identified him as a 10-year-old .
But a HIPAA expert called in by Bernard's lawyers disagreed.
"The information she shared was age, gender and condition," said Paige Joyner, who has conducted hundreds of HIPAA risk assessments as well as working with the Office of Civil Rights. “This is not protected health information. There was nothing that could be individually identified."
The 10-year-old's case attracted international attention when it first came to light in JulyIndianapolis star storyabout pregnant women coming to Indiana in response to abortion restrictions elsewhere due to trigger laws enacted after the U.S. Supreme Court decision inDobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organizationin July.
The story immediately became a political lightning rod, with abortion rights advocates citing it as a direct and horrific example of how repealing federal abortion protections hurt women and girls, while anti-abortion Republicans dismissed the story as fabricated. But two weeks laterA 27-year-old Ohio man was arrested for rape after he reportedly confessed to the crime.
Bernard wrote later that monthopinion excerptto The Washington Post, defending his choice of abortion care.
How local journalists proved that the abortion of a 10-year-old girl was not a fraud
Bernardussued Rokita last year,claimed in her lawsuit that his office relied on "invalid consumer complaints to justify repeated, duplicated, and exaggerated investigations against law-abiding physicians."
An Indiana judge in December denied Bernard's request to block Rokita's efforts, saying it was a matter for the state's licensing agency. But Marion County District Judge Heather Welch also said Rokita was acting illegally by doingpubliccomments on the investigation of Bernard in terms of possible misconduct - a breach of the confidentiality requirements of his office.
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