An Indiana doctor was visibly emotional as she was handed a $3,000 fine and a letter of reprimand Thursday night for going public after providing an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim who traveled out of state from neighboring Ohio.
After an arduous, 14-hour meeting, the Indiana State Medical Licensing Board found that Dr. Caitlin Bernard violated patient privacy under HIPAA and state law in telling the girl’s story to the Indianapolis Star, sparking global headlines, an impassioned speech from President Joe Biden, and a national debate weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
Hours after the Supreme Court ruling on June 24, 2022, an Ohio law that prohibited abortions after six weeks of pregnancy went into immediate effect. At the time, the girl was six weeks and three days pregnant. A 27-year-old Guatemalan man was subsequently charged with her rape in Columbus, Ohio.
Bernard could be seen holding back tears as the board handed down its decision Thursday night. She took a tissue and held it to her face, covering her eyes.
“I think that it’s incredibly important for people to understand the real-world impacts of the laws of this country,” Bernard told the board earlier in the day of her decision to speak to the press, appearing emotional as she answered questions from Cory Voight, an attorney with Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita’s office.
“I think if the attorney general, Todd Rokita, had not chosen to make this his political stunt we wouldn’t be here today,” Bernard said.
“I think it’s important for people to know what patients will have to go through because of legislation that is being passed, and a hypothetical does not make that impact.”
Rokita has continually expressed his outrage at Bernard, filing a written complaint against her in November. He had sought to have her license to practice medicine suspended.
The doctor was cleared of two other counts on reporting and fitness to practice, meaning she will still be able to practice medicine.
“Like we have said for a year, this case was about patient privacy and the trust between the doctor and patient that was broken,” Rokita said in a statement.
“What if it was your child or your parent or your sibling who was going through a sensitive medical crisis, and the doctor, who you thought was on your side, ran to the press for political reasons? It’s not right, and the facts we presented today made that clear. We appreciate the Medical Licensing Board’s extraordinary time and consideration. My team did a great job getting the Truth out. Caitlin Bernard was found liable for violating state and federal patient privacy law on three separate counts.”
He added: “Thanks to my amazing team, the abortion doctor got the maximum civil fine for violating three counts of privacy laws and received a public reprimand to go into a national database.”
Bernard, through her lawyer, has consistently maintained that she “took every appropriate and proper action in accordance with the law and both her medical and ethical training as a physician.” On Thursday, her lawyer reiterated those words, along with her argument that no identifying details were released about the girl that would threaten her exposure and that therefore Bernard did not break or violate any privacy laws.
“Dr. Bernard could not have anticipated the atypical and intense scrutiny that this story received,” Bernard’s lawyer Alice Morical said, according to Associated Press. “She did not expect that politicians would say that she made the story up.”
Board president Dr. John Strobel argued that Bernard shouldn’t have taken the story to the media at all and that the protection of patient privacy is paramount. He acknowledged that he thought Bernard didn’t expect the story to go viral, but he warned that physicians should be careful.
The board, according to the Associated Press, included five doctors and one attorney, all of whom “were appointed or reappointed by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb.”
The Ohio law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy that immediately took effect after the Supreme Court overturned Roe stood until mid-September, when a Hamilton County judge blocked it. In March this year, the Ohio Supreme Court agreed to take up the case. For now, abortions in Ohio remain legal in the state for now, up to 20 weeks’ gestation.