Indiana AG Reprimanded for Going After Doctor Who Gave Abortion to 10-Year-Old Rape Victim
Todd Rokita has led a 1.5-year crusade against Dr. Caitlin Bernard, in what advocates see as a movement to stop doctors from criticizing abortion bans.AbortionPolitics
On Thursday, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that state Attorney General Todd Rokita violated rules of professional conduct through public comments he made last year about Dr. Caitlin Bernard, the Indiana doctor who provided abortion care to a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio last July. As a result of the ruling, Rokita will receive a public reprimand and a $250 fine. The court specifically cited Rokita’s July 2022 comments on Fox News, in which he described Bernard as an “abortion activist acting as a doctor—with a history of failing to report,” falsely claiming Bernard hadn’t reported the Ohio rape victim’s abortion to the state.
According to the state Supreme Court’s opinion, Rokita specifically violated rules that prohibit a lawyer from making public statements about an ongoing investigation if the comments could “materially [prejudice]” the investigation; Rokita also violated a rule prohibiting comments that “have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay or burden a third person.” The Indiana AG has since issued a statement maintaining that his comments on Fox News “are factual” and claiming that he’s chosen not to fight the ruling to “save a lot of taxpayer money and distraction.” He then comically insisted he’s somehow a victim of “the cancel culture establishment” after months of trying to cancel Bernard, and, apparently addressing his supporters, declared that “liberal activists” are trying “to cancel your vote because they hate the fact I stand up for liberty.”
Rokita also accused Bernard of “[causing] the international media spectacle at the expense of her patient’s privacy” and being “an outspoken abortion activist.” Representatives for Bernard, in response, told IndyStar on Thursday that they would “let the reprimand speak for itself.”
The court’s ruling comes amid a nearly 1.5-year legal saga between Bernard and Rokita, who has wielded the power of his legal office to threaten and intimidate Bernard for not only offering abortion care to a child survivor but also speaking out against abortion laws. In July 2022, Bernard told local media that she’d provided medication abortion care to a 10-year-old rape victim who was denied abortion care in Ohio, where an abortion ban in place at the time lacked exceptions for rape. Bernard had reported the abortion to the state and didn’t disclose identifying details about her patient. She shared the story to raise important awareness about how abortion laws are forcing children to travel out of state for life-saving health care.
For some important context, Indiana’s Medical Board is appointed by Gov. Eric Holcomb (R), who signed an abortion ban into law; two of the board’s seven members are reportedly donors to Rokita. Meanwhile, numerous members of the medical community including one of the authors of HIPAA—the privacy law Bernard supposedly violated—maintained that she hadn’t done anything improper and that the board’s ruling had merely been a means to chill speech and punish doctors who criticize abortion bans. A spokesperson for Physicians for Reproductive Health told Jezebel at the time that the decision to reprimand Bernard “is not the first instance of abortion providers being senselessly targeted by the state and it will not be the last.”
Speaking to USA Today about the ruling, Kathleen Clark, a law professor at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Law, criticized the nonchalance of Rokita’s statement. “This isn’t just about a technical violation of the rules, this is about abusing his office to hurt someone,” Clark said. “There’s gravity to that that I do not see reflected in his statement released today.”
It’s also worth noting that despite Rokita’s harassment of Bernard, supposedly in the name of patient privacy concerns, Indiana is one of many states that require providers to report information about their patients’ abortions to the state government, exposing patients to increased risk of state surveillance and criminalization. It’s difficult to see Rokita or Indiana’s Medical Licensing Board as concerned with privacy or anything but punishing Bernard.
Even after Bernard was reprimanded earlier this year, Rokita has maintained his crusade against the doctor by filing a lawsuit against the Indiana University Health system under which she works, alleging that the whole health system violated privacy laws. The state of Indiana also reportedly blocked Bernard from receiving a prestigious award for her work this year over her abortion rights advocacy. It’s unlikely the state Supreme Court’s reprimand and $250 fine will deter him from continuing to try to make her life hell.