Indiana doctor fined for talking about Ohio abortions

INDIANAPOLIS — An Indiana board decided Thursday night to reprimand an Indianapolis doctor because he violated patient privacy laws by talking publicly about getting a 10-year-old rape victim from neighboring Ohio an abortion.

The State Medical Licensing Board voted that Dr. Caitlin Barnard did not comply with privacy laws when she told a newspaper reporter about her treatment of the girl in a case that was upheld by the US Supreme Court in Roe v. Planted last summer.

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However, the board rejected allegations from Indiana’s Republican attorney general that Bernard violated state law by not reporting the child abuse to Indiana authorities. Board members voted to fine Bernard $3,000 for the violation, turning down a request from the Attorney General’s office to suspend Bernard’s license. The board did not impose any restrictions on his medical practice.

Bernard has consistently defended her actions, and she told the board on Thursday that she followed Indiana’s reporting requirements and hospital policy by notifying hospital social workers about the child abuse — and was followed by Ohio authorities after the girl’s death. The rape was already being investigated. Bernard’s attorneys also said that he did not release any identifying information about the girl that would have broken privacy laws.

The Indianapolis Star cited the girl’s case in a July 1 article that followed last summer’s Roe v. In the weeks following the Wade decision that sparked a national political upheaval, an Ohio law was enacted that prohibited abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. Some news outlets and Republican politicians falsely suggested that Bernard fabricated the story, until a 27-year-old man was accused of rape in Columbus, Ohio. During an event at the White House, President Joe Biden almost shouted his indignation over the matter.

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Dr. John Strobel, president of the medical board, said he believed Bernard went too far in telling a reporter about the girl’s pending abortion and that physicians need to be careful about patient confidentiality. .

Strobel said of Bernard, “I don’t think he expected it to go viral.” Did it. occurred.”

Bernard’s attorney, Alice Moricle, told the board Thursday that the doctor had received complaints of child abuse from patients several times a year, and a hospital social worker confirmed to Ohio child protection workers that it was safe for the girl to be with her mother. .

“Dr. Bernard could not have anticipated the unusual and intense scrutiny this story would receive,” Moricle said. “She didn’t expect politicians to say she made up the story.”

Last summer amid a wave of attention to the girl’s case, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, who is a staunch opponent of abortion, told Fox News that he would investigate Bernard’s actions and call her “a woman who works as a doctor.” abortion activist”.

Deputy Attorney General Corey Voight argued Thursday that the board needed to address “serious violations” of patient confidentiality and Bernard’s failure to notify Indiana’s Department of Children’s Services and police about the rape.

“No such case has come before the board,” Voight said. “No physician has ever been so brazen in furthering his own agenda.”

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Voight asked Bernard why he discussed the Ohio girl’s case with the newspaper reporter and later in other news media interviews, instead of using a fictional situation.

“I think it’s incredibly important for people to understand the real-world implications of the laws in this country regarding abortion,” Bernard said. “I think it’s important for people to know what patients will be going through because of a law that is passed, and not have a hypothetical effect.”

Board member Dr. Bharat Barai protested, saying that Bernard violated privacy laws, saying that he did not release any direct protected identifying information, such as the girl’s name or address. He disagreed with the board’s majority view that the combination of information about the rare instance of a 10-year-old pregnant girl could reveal her identity.

“We’re trying to believe that yes it could have been done and that someone might have discovered it,” Barai said.

During Thursday’s hearing, which lasted nearly 13 hours, Rokita’s office continued to comment on its official Twitter account, saying in a post: “When Bernard talks about the high priority he talks about, the law and the public She did so at the cost of her own patient. This shows where her priorities lie as an activist rather than a doctor.”

Bernard objected to Voight, saying that his choice to discuss the matter publicly led to allegations of misconduct.

“I think we would not be here today if Attorney General Todd Rokita had not chosen to make this his political stunt,” Bernard said.

Lawyers for the attorney general’s office repeatedly questioned whether the policy of Bernard’s employer, Indiana University Health, to report suspected child abuse to authorities in the state where the abuse occurred complies with Indiana law. Officials at IU Health, the state’s largest hospital system, testified that the Indiana Department of Child Services never objected to the hospital’s policy.

The Indiana Board—existed with five doctors and one attorney who were appointed or reappointed by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb – had wide latitude under state law allowing him to issue letters of reprimand or suspend, revoke or place a doctor’s license on probation.

Ohio’s law, which nearly banned abortion, was in effect for about two months before a lawsuit against it got underway. Indiana’s Republican-dominated Legislature approved a statewide abortion ban weeks after the Ohio girl’s case drew attention, but continues to allow abortions in the state while awaiting the Indiana Supreme Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of the ban.

Bernard unsuccessfully tried to block Rokita’s investigation last fall, though an Indianapolis judge wrote that Rokita “clearly violated state privacy laws with her public comments about the doctor’s investigation before filing a medical licensing complaint against her.” illegally violated”.

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