An Indiana OB-GYN, Dr. Caitlin Bernard, has been caught in a national political debate after discussing an abortion she provided to a 10-year-old who reported a rape in Ohio. Public attacks were hurled at Bernard with accusations of non-compliance with state and patient privacy laws.
Now, Bernard’s employer, IU Health, said the hospital system conducted an investigation and found she was compliant with patient privacy laws.
“IU Health routinely initiates reviews, including the matters in the news concerning Dr. Caitlin Bernard,” IU Health officials said in a statement. “IU Health’s investigation found Dr. Bernard in compliance with privacy laws.”
After Roe v. Wade was overturned on June 24, state-level abortion restrictions kicked off around the country. Ohio banned abortions after six weeks of pregnancy with no exception for rape or incest, which Bernard said drove the 10-year-old rape victim’s family to cross state lines.
The political whirlwind started in early July after Bernard told the Indianapolis Star about the case. When the story came out, it went viral, gaining national and international attention. But, at the time, there was no proof provided that the rape or abortion actually happened, which led to a wave of public attacks on Bernard’s integrity.
This week, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita accused Bernard on Fox News — without providing evidence — of a history of non-compliance with state law, which requires providers to report the abortions they perform.
“We have this abortion activist, acting as a doctor, with a history of failing to report [abortions]. So we are gathering the information, we are gathering the evidence as we speak,” Rokita said in the interview. “We’re going to fight this to the end, including looking at her licensure if she failed to report. And in Indiana it’s a crime … to intentionally not report.”
Now, documents obtained and verified by NPR, WFYI and the Recorder from Indiana state health officials show Bernard was compliant in reporting the case to state health agencies.
In a statement July 15, Rokita said his office is “gathering evidence from multiple sources and agencies related to these allegations,” and the legal review remains open.
Bernard didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment — but she spoke to WFYI minutes after Roe was overturned on June 24.
“I can’t tell you how many women I’ve seen who do not want to have an abortion, they are doing it because it is the only choice that they have,” Bernard said as she fought back tears. “They cannot feed their families, they cannot go to work. They cannot continue their education, they cannot get away from the abuser that they’re in the middle of because of this pregnancy.”
In a tweet on July 13, Bernard said, “My heart breaks for all survivors of sexual assault and abuse. I’m so sad that our country is failing them when they need us most. Doctors must be able to give people the medical care they need, when and where they need it.”
Bernard’s lawyer, Indianapolis-based Kathleen DeLaney, said in a statement July 15 that she’s sent a cease and desist to Rokita on behalf of her client, calling Rokita’s statements to Fox News “false and defamatory.”
“Moreover, to the extent that any statement you make exceeds the general scope of your authority as Indiana’s Attorney General, such a statement forms the basis of an actionable defamation claim,” the cease and desist letter states. “We are especially concerned that, given the controversial political context of the statements, such inflammatory accusations have the potential to incite harassment or violence from the public which could prevent Dr. Bernard, an Indiana licensed physician, from providing care to her [patients] safely.”
This is not the first time abortion providers like Bernard have been harassed and threatened across the country over the years. A report from the National Abortion Federation found assaults against abortion clinics staff and patients increased 128% in 2021 compared to the previous year. The data also shows a six-fold increase in incidents of stalking, and a more than 4-fold increase of blockades.
Bernard told WFYI that she and her family had been subjected to serious threats a few years ago when she worked in Louisville, Kentucky.
“There was an online threat [against] the provider at a clinic in Kentucky in Louisville, which is where I worked at the Planned Parenthood,” she said. “They threatened to kidnap her daughter to stop her from performing abortions. And I’m the only doctor there that has a daughter.”
In 2013, police arrested a man in Bloomington after he attempted to break into a Planned Parenthood building using an ax. According to police reports, the man wanted to damage the building because providers “murder” babies.
A special legislative session starts July 25. Indiana lawmakers are expected to ban abortion, though legislators and Gov. Eric Holcomb haven’t commented on the extent of the ban.
This story comes from a reporting collaboration that includes the Indianapolis Recorder and Side Effects Public Media, a public health news initiative based at WFYI. Contact Farah at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @Farah_Yousrym.