Supporters of an Indianapolis doctor expressed frustration Friday with the Indiana medical board’s decision that she violated patient privacy laws when she spoke to a newspaper reporter about the abortion of a 10-year-old rape victim in Ohio. .
The board’s vote on Thursday night to issue a letter of reprimand against Dr. Caitlin Bernard will not limit her ability to practice medicine in the state, and the hospital system where she works said it stands by its conclusion that she followed privacy rules. The medical board rejected allegations that Bernard failed to properly report suspected child abuse and was unable to obtain a medical license.
Some of Bernard’s colleagues have criticized the Medical Licensing Board’s vote and the state attorney general’s pursuit of disciplinary action against her as an attempt to intimidate doctors in Indiana, where the Republican-dominated Legislature enacted an abortion ban last year. past that the courts suspended.
Bernard’s revelation about the girl who traveled to Indiana to receive abortion medication has turned her case into a flash point in the national abortion debate, days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer. Some media outlets and Republican politicians falsely suggested that Bernard made up the story until a 27-year-old man was accused of rape in Columbus, Ohio. During an event at the White House, President Joe Biden almost shouted his outrage over the case.
Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita, who is vehemently anti-abortion, praised the board’s decision as supporting his arguments that Bernard broke “the trust between the doctor and the patient.”
The board’s vote to reprimand Bernard and fine her $3,000 fell far short of the sick leave suspension that Rokita’s office asked the panel to impose.
Bernard’s attorneys argued Thursday that officials at Indiana University Health, her employer and the state’s largest hospital system, reviewed last summer what she said about the girl’s treatment and found no violation of the Federal Portability Act and Health Insurance Liability.
IU Health said in a statement on Friday that it was pleased that Bernard remained among its physicians.
“We disagree with the board’s decision regarding patient privacy regulations and support the HIPAA risk assessment,” the hospital system said. “We believe that Dr. Bernard was in compliance with privacy laws.”
A request for an interview with Bernard was turned down on Friday by a spokeswoman for his lawyers.
Bernard’s lawyers did not say on Friday whether they would appeal the board’s decision in the state court system. They issued a statement questioning the board’s vote of rebuke for not specifying what protected health information it erroneously disclosed.
“While we strongly disagree with the reprimand letter over privacy concerns, we are proud of Dr. Bernard for championing access to compassionate medical care and for her consummate professionalism during these unprecedented procedures,” said her lead attorney, Alice Morical.
Bernard has always defended his actions. She testified on Thursday that she believed it was important to use “real-world impacts” of anti-abortion laws and that she had not expected so many questions about such a young girl’s reporting of pregnancy.
“The idea that this was something someone would make up or it was a lie or something that doesn’t happen was very surprising to me,” Bernard said.
Witnesses and attorneys from the attorney general’s office maintained during the licensing hearing that it was the combination of Bernard telling a reporter for the Indianapolis Star about the girl’s age and home state, that she had passed Ohio’s six-week limit. for an abortion and that the procedure would take place in the next few days which created a violation of patient privacy laws.
Dr. Tracey Wilkinson, a pediatrician who works with Bernard at IU Health, attended the board hearing in support of Bernard and called his case a “political persecution” that should concern doctors.
“I think it’s incredibly unfortunate, as Dr. Bernard’s intimidation sends a message that this can happen to any physician who is providing evidence-based comprehensive health care to their patients,” said Wilkinson.
Anti-abortion groups have urged Indiana hospitals to reconsider keeping doctors who perform abortions on staff.
“Dr. Bernard promptly and willingly put her patient – who was not consulted or willing – in the public light for her own agenda,” said Marc Tuttle, president of Right to Life of Indianapolis.
The medical board members – five doctors and a lawyer appointed or reappointed by Republican Governor Eric Holcomb – rejected separate allegations that Bernard violated state law by failing to report the child abuse to Indiana authorities. Bernard and IU Health officials testified that she followed Indiana’s reporting requirements and hospital policy in notifying hospital social workers of the child abuse — and that the girl’s rape was already being investigated by Ohio authorities.
The board’s split decision on Bernard’s allegations left no clear winner in the case, Laura Iosue, an attorney who led medical licensing investigations at the state attorney general’s office for seven years through 2020, said.
“Everyone is going to be a little more cautious,” said Iosue. “I think everyone is going to have their antennae up now based on this decision.”