INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s Republican Attorney General can continue to investigate an Indianapolis doctor who spoke publicly about the abortion of a 10-year-old rape victim from neighboring Ohio, a judge ruled Friday.
An attempt to block an investigation into Attorney General Todd Rokita’s office was dismissed by Marion County Judge Heather Welch. She ruled Friday in a separate lawsuit that Indiana’s abortion ban, enacted in August, violates the religious freedom law signed by the then-governor. Mike Pence in 2015. However, Indiana’s abortion ban has been suspended since mid-September as courts consider a challenge by abortion clinic operators who argue the ban violates the state constitution.
The judge’s decision on the investigation against Dr. Caitlin Bernard arrived two days after the attorney general’s office asked the state licensing board to discipline Bernard for allegations that she violated state law by failing to report the girl’s child molestation to Indiana authorities and violated the privacy laws of patient had told a newspaper reporter about the girl’s treatment.
That report triggered in the weeks after the US Supreme Court Roe v. Wade in June sparked a national political uproar, with some news outlets and Republican politicians suggesting Bernard made up the story. The girl hadn’t been able to get an abortion in Ohio after a more restrictive abortion law went into effect there.
Bernard filed a lawsuit against the attorney general last month, arguing Rokita’s office was falsely justifying the investigation with “frivolous” consumer complaints filed by people who had no personal knowledge of the girl’s treatment. Bernard and her attorneys claim the girl’s abuse was reported to the Ohio police before the doctor even saw the child.
But the judge denied Bernard’s request for a restraining order to stall the investigation. Welch ruled that the medical licensing board now had jurisdiction over the matter since the attorney general filed the complaint on Wednesday. That complaint asked the state board of licensure to impose “reasonable disciplinary action” without specifying a proposed penalty. The board, which has the power to suspend, revoke or place a doctor’s license on probation, said Friday it had received the complaint but had not set a hearing date.
However, Welch found that Rokita had erroneously made public comments about the investigation into Bernard before the complaint was filed. Welch wrote that Rokita’s comments constitute “clear unlawful violations of the requirement under the License Investigations Act that employees of the Attorney General’s Office maintain confidentiality about pending investigations until referred to prosecution.”
Bernard’s attorney, Kathleen DeLaney, slammed Rokita for breaching his “duty of confidentiality” and preemptively escalating the case to the medical board, “taking it out of Judge Welch’s hands.”
“We trust the records and testimonies we have already prepared and look forward to hearing the evidence from Dr. Bernard to the Medical Licensing Board,” DeLaney said.
The attorney general’s office said the ruling supports the protection of patients’ privacy.
“The doctor and her attorneys initiated this media frenzy from the start, and it continues to draw attention to this innocent little girl trying to cope with terrible trauma,” the office said in a statement, supporting the judge’s criticism did not address Rokita’s public comments on the case.
Bernard was providing the girl with abortion drugs in Indianapolis in late June when she said doctors had determined the girl in neighboring Ohio could not have an abortion. That’s because Ohio’s Fetal Heartbeat Act went into effect with the US Supreme Court’s decision to end constitutional protections for women from abortion. Such laws prohibit abortions from the point at which cardiac activity can be detected in an embryo, which is typically around the sixth week of pregnancy.
Rokita has continued the investigation even after a 27-year-old man in Columbus, Ohio, was charged with raping the girl, and public records obtained by The Associated Press show Bernard Indiana’s mandatory three-day reporting deadline for a conducted Abortion had met girls younger than 16.
In Welch’s ruling on the state’s ban on abortion, the judge sided with five residents – who are Jewish, Muslim and spiritual – who argued that the ban would violate their religious rights if they believe abortion is acceptable.
“The unchallenged evidence is that plaintiffs do not share the state’s belief that life begins at fertilization or that abortion constitutes the deliberate killing of a human being,” Welch wrote. “On the contrary, they have different religious beliefs about when life begins. … Under the law, the court finds that these are sincere religious beliefs.”
Rokita’s office, which defends the abortion ban in court, did not immediately comment on the ruling in the religious freedom lawsuit.