An Indiana doctor who performed an abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim last year violated his young patient’s privacy by discussing the matter with a reporter, the state’s medical board ruled Thursday night.
Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an Indianapolis obstetrician-gynecologist, made national headlines last year when she provided an abortion for an Ohio girl shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which allowed states to criminalize abortion. Left free to formally restrict or outlaw. ,
The state’s medical board voted to issue Dr. Bernard a letter of reprimand and a $3,000 fine. But it decided against harsher penalties, which could have included suspension or probation, instead deciding that Dr Bernard was fit to return to his practice.
The board also cleared her of another charge that she failed to appropriately report the girl’s rape to authorities.
The decision was the culmination of a year-long legal pursuit of Dr. Bernard by the state’s Attorney General, Todd Rokita, a Republican who opposes abortion.
The Ohio girl had traveled to Indiana for the procedure because her home state banned most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. During an abortion rights rally, Dr. Bernard told a reporter for the Indianapolis Star about the matter. She didn’t name the patient, but the case quickly became a flash point in the debate’s early, heated days following the Supreme Court ruling, which drew attention from President Biden and conservative attention and Dr. drew attention to Bernard.
Board President Dr. John Strobel described Dr. Bernard as a “good doctor,” saying, “I don’t think she intended this to go viral.”
“But I think we as physicians need to be more careful in this situation,” he said.
Mr. Rokita, who filed a complaint against Dr. Bernard with the medical board, praised the result.
“This case was about patient privacy and the trust between doctor and patient that was broken,” Rokita said in a statement late Thursday. “What if it was your child or your patient or your sibling who was going through a sensitive medical crisis, and the doctor, who you thought was on your side, ran into the press for political reasons?”
Dr Bernard criticized Mr Rokita for turning the case into a “political stunt”.
During the hearing, which lasted more than 15 hours, ending just before midnight, Dr. Bernard said that his own comments did not reveal protected patient health information. Rather, Dr. Bernard said, it was the fierce political battle that followed. Some conservatives doubted his story and sought to confirm it. Eventually, the man accused of raping the girl appeared in court and was linked to his case.
Dr Bernard, who has publicly advocated for abortion rights, said she had a moral obligation to educate the public about urgent matters of public health, particularly questions about reproductive health – her area of expertise .
Last July, after Indiana scheduled a special legislative session on abortion, Dr. Bernard worried that lawmakers in her home state would impose stricter restrictions on abortion access similar to the Ohio law that allowed her 10-year-old patient to cross state borders. was forced to cross.
Indiana passed a law banning most abortions, with the narrow exceptions of rape and adultery. That law is pending a legal challenge. Abortion is currently legal in Indiana up to 22 weeks.
Dr. Bernard said she wanted to highlight the potential consequences of laws restricting abortion access, and “didn’t expect” how much the public would focus on the Ohio girl’s case.
“I think it’s incredibly important for people to understand the real-word effects of the laws in this country,” she said.
Dr. Peter Schwartz, a Pennsylvania OB-GYN and chair of the American Medical Association Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, supported Dr. Bernard’s decision to speak about the Ohio patient.
Dr. Schwartz said that Dr. Bernard had an “affirmative obligation to speak out” about reproductive health issues, noting that she is one of only two doctors in Indiana who have been trained to handle complex obstetric cases such as second-trimester abortions. Have expertise in.
Lawyers for both sides of the hearing called on experts on medical privacy to understand whether Dr. Bernard violated guidelines from the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, better known as HIPAA, which protects patient privacy. controls security.
Dr. Bernard’s employer, Indiana University Health, found that it did not violate HIPAA regulations because the patient could not be identified based on publicly shared information by Dr. Bernard.
“What happened here was not cause and effect: ‘Dr. Bernard’s story leads the patient to share her protected information,'” said Alice Moricle, the doctor’s attorney.
But members of the medical board, made up of six doctors and a lawyer – all appointed by the governor – decided that, taken together, Dr. Bernard provided details about the patient – including her age, her rape, her home State and its abort – Qualify as identifying information.
“Dr. Bernard is a skilled and competent doctor, and I would say that he is exactly the doctor people would want their children to see under these circumstances,” Ms. Morical said.