An Indiana doctor who provided an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim last year violated his young patient’s privacy by discussing the case with a reporter, the state medical board ruled Thursday evening.
Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Indianapolis, was catapulted into the national spotlight last year after providing an abortion to an Ohio girl soon after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, who left states free to severely limit or ban abortion.
The state medical board voted to issue Dr. Bernard with a letter of reprimand and a $3,000 fine. But she has decided against harsher penalties, which could have included suspension or probation, deciding instead that Dr. Bernard is eligible to return to her practice.
The council also cleared her of other allegations that she failed to properly report the girl’s rape to the authorities.
The decision was the culmination of a year of legal persecution of Dr. Bernard by the state attorney general, Todd Rokita, a Republican who opposes abortion.
The Ohio girl had traveled to Indiana for the procedure after her home state enacted a ban on most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. Dr. Bernard told an Indianapolis Star reporter about the case at an abortion rights rally. He did not name the patient, but the case quickly became a flashpoint in the first heated debate days after the Supreme Court ruling, drawing President Biden’s attention and turning conservative attention and ire toward Dr. Bernard.
« I don’t think he intended this to go viral, » said Dr. John Strobel, chairman of the board, calling Dr. Bernard a « good doctor. »
« But I think we doctors need to be more careful in this situation, » she said.
Mr. Rokita, who had filed a complaint against Dr. Bernard to the medical board, praised the result.
« This case was about patient privacy and the trust between the doctor and patient that had been broken, » Mr. Rokita said in a statement late Thursday. “What if it was your child or your patient or your brother who was having a delicate medical crisis, and the doctor, who you thought was on your side, went to 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 her own comments did not reveal the patient’s PHI. Rather, Dr. Bernard said, it was the fierce political battle that ensued. Some conservatives questioned her story and asked for confirmation. Eventually, the man accused of raping the girl appeared in court and was linked to her case.
Dr. Bernard, who has publicly advocated for abortion rights, said she has an ethical obligation to educate the public about pressing public health issues, especially reproductive health issues, her area of expertise.
Last July, after Indiana scheduled a special legislative session on abortion, Dr. Bernard was concerned that lawmakers in her home state would pass strict restrictions on abortion access similar to the Ohio law that forcing his 10-year-old patient across state lines.
Indiana has passed legislation banning most abortions, with limited exceptions for rape and incest. That law is on hold pending a legal challenge. Abortion is currently legal in Indiana for up to 22 weeks.
Dr. Bernard said she wanted to highlight the potential consequences of laws limiting access to abortion and « didn’t anticipate » how much the public would focus on the Ohio girl’s case.
« I think it’s incredibly important for people to understand the real impact of the laws in this country, » she said.
Dr. Peter Schwartz, a Pennsylvania OB-GYN and president of the American Medical Association’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, supported Dr. Bernard’s decision to speak openly about the Ohio patient.
Dr. Schwartz said Dr. Bernard had an « affirmative obligation to speak up » about reproductive health issues, noting that she is one of only two Indiana physicians with expertise in complicated obstetrical cases such as second-generation abortions. quarter.
Attorneys on both sides of the hearing called on medical confidentiality experts to determine whether Dr. Bernard violated guidelines of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPAA, which governs protecting patient privacy.
Dr. Bernard’s employer, Indiana University Health, found it did not violate HIPAA rules because the patient was not identifiable based on information Dr. Bernard had shared publicly.
“The cause and effect that happened here was not, ‘Dr. Bernard’s story leads the patient to share her protected information,” said Alice Morical, the doctor’s attorney.
But members of the medical committee, made up of six doctors and a lawyer – all appointed by the governor – decided that taken together, the details Dr. Bernard provided about the patient – including her age, rape, her home state and its abortion — qualified as identifying information.
“Dr. Bernard is an experienced and knowledgeable doctor, and I would say he is exactly the doctor people would want their children to see under these circumstances,” Ms. Morical said.