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Sunday, February 25, 2024

Indiana attorney general sues hospital over doctor talking publicly about 10-year-old rape victim’s abortion

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita is suing his state’s largest hospital system for allegedly violating patient privacy laws when one of its practitioners, Dr. Caitlin Bernard, sharedthe story of a 10-year-old rape victim who traveled from Ohio for an abortion last summer.

Rokita’s suit, filed Friday, claims that the hospital, part of Indiana University Health System, violated HIPPA, the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, as well as a state law by not protecting the patient’s information or punishing Bernard for speaking out about the pregnancy termination procedure she provided. Bernard worked at the time in the Indiana University Health clinic and is still employed by IU Health Physicians.

“The news story quoted the girl’s doctor. The 10-year-old’s treatment was a very private and sensitive matter, as was the abuse she suffered that resulted in her pregnancy. Neither the 10-year-old nor her mother gave the doctor authorization to speak to the media about their case,” the complaint said. “Rather than protecting the patient, the hospital chose to protect the doctor, and itself.”

The lawsuit names Indiana University Health and IU Healthcare Associates. According to the filing, IU Healthcare Associates does business as IU Health Physicians, which is listed as an affiliated covered entity by Indiana University Health. Indiana University Health said in a statement to CBS News it holds itself “accountable every day for providing quality healthcare and securing privacy for our patients.”

“We continue to be disappointed the Indiana Attorney General’s office persists in putting the state’s limited resources toward this matter,” it said. “We will respond directly to the AG’s office on the filing.”

The suit is the latest act of retaliation brought against Bernard by the attorney general, a vocal opponent of abortion rights. It also followsa defamation lawsuitthat Bernard filed against Rokita earlier this year.

In November, Rokita filed a complaint with Indiana’s medical licensing board seeking a suspension of Bernard’s license to practice. The licensing boardreprimanded Bernard in May, finding that she violated state privacy requirements by speaking openly about the Ohio child’s medical treatment, but rejecting the attorney general’s accusation claiming that Bernard violated another state law by declining to report the victim’s child abuse case to Indiana authorities. The board fined Bernard $3,000 for the privacy violations, declining to suspend her license or impose any restrictions on her ability to practice medicine in Indiana.

Bernard first shared the story of the 10-year-old’s medication abortion with the Indianapolis Star in the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision in June last year tooverturn Roe v. Wade. The ruling removed the constitutional right to choose to have an abortion and left state abortion laws up to the states themselves.

The 10-year-old patient from Ohio traveled to Indianapolis last summer for abortion medication because her home state outlawed pregnancy termination after the first detectable fetal heartbeat, without exceptions for minor children who were raped. A 28-year-old man ultimately confessed to raping the patient and was sentenced to life in prison in July.

In another development surrounding Rokita and Bernard, the Indiana Supreme Court alleged in a complaint filed Monday that Rokita violated professional conduct rules in past comments about the doctor.

The court’s disciplinary commissions alleges that in an interview with Fox News host Jesse Waters in July 2022, Rokita violated the Indiana Rule of Professional Conduct on three counts. The complaint says he described Bernard in the interview as an “abortion activist acting as a doctor — with a history of failure to report” during an ongoing investigation, and intentionally made public statements and/or directed others “to issue public statements from July 2022 – September 2022 about the investigation of Dr. Caitlin Bernard, prior to a referral to the Medical Licensing Board, in contravention of the duty of confidentiality required” by the state.

Rokita’s office opened an investigation into six complaints filed to the office’s consumer protection division in July 2022, related to Bernard performing the pregnancy termination procedure. None were filed by patients of Bernard, commissioners said.

Rokita responded to the charges in a statementMonday and his office filed a formal response to the disciplinary commission’s complaint, defending Rokita’s actions.

“Hoosiers, in the largest number on record, elected me Attorney General because they knew they were getting a passionate fighter who — like them — is beating back the culture of death, grievance and transanity being pushed by radicals in workplaces, schools, media and government,” Rokita said in the statement. He is seeking reelection for attorney general of Indiana in 2024.

“This work certainly includes vindicating vulnerable children (our most precious gift) for having their privacy rights unlawfully violated — without consent — by healthcare providers to further their political agenda and their ‘bottom line,'” his statement continued. “I won’t stop in this and my other work.”

State procedure dictates that the subject of a complaint from the disciplinary commission may submit a formal response to any charges, a spokesperson for the Indiana Supreme Court said in an email to CBS News on Monday. After that, a “trial-like” proceeding can take place in lieu of an agreement by both parties submitted to the court. Asked by CBS News for additional comments about the filings, a spokesperson for Rokita’s office referenced the attorney general’s published statement and the response filing Indiana Supreme Court.

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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