Indiana attorney general faces ethics case over abortion doctor remarks

23:38 18.09.2023 - Reuters, Nate Raymond,David Thomas

An Indiana judicial watchdog on Monday accused Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita of violating professional conduct rules while making statements about a doctor in the state who performed an abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio.

The complaint by the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission cited statements Rokita made on Fox News in July 2022 about Dr. Caitlin Bernard in a case that became a flashpoint in the debate over abortion access.

The commission's move is the latest in a state whose highest court in June upheld a law banning nearly all abortions in the state. The Indiana Supreme Court is also the ultimate arbiter for any attorneys charged with misconduct by the commission.

Rokita, who opposes abortion, had opened an investigation into Bernard. During a show hosted by Fox's Jesse Watters, he described her as an "abortion activist acting as a doctor - with a history of failure to report" child abuse cases.

The commission said those comments violated rules barring lawyers from making public statements with a substantial likelihood of "materially prejudicing" a case.

In a written response on Monday, Rokita said he was not required to maintain confidentiality in Bernard's case, claiming she "violated her own duties of confidentiality by disclosing her patient's condition."

Rokita also questioned whether an Indiana confidentiality law invoked by the commission held any power over him, arguing that it only applies to an attorney general's employees.

Bernard has said the Ohio child was referred to her three days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that guaranteed federal abortion rights. Ohio and other states quickly enforced strict limits on abortion in the wake of the ruling, sometimes without exceptions involving rape.

Rokita filed a medical licensing board complaint against Bernard in November, accusing her of violating her patient's privacy rights and failing to immediately report child abuse to Indiana authorities.

The board in May reprimanded Bernard for speaking publicly about her patient's condition in violation of privacy laws and fined her $3,000.

A lawyer for Bernard said she had no comment on the disciplinary case against Rokita.

/ Monday, September 18, 2023, 11:38 PM /

themes:  Ohio  Indiana

Indiana attorney general sues hospital over doctor talking publicly about 10-year-old rape victim's abortion

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita is suing his state's largest hospital system for allegedly violating patient privacy laws when one of its practitioners, Dr. Caitlin Bernard, shared the story of a 10-year-old rape victim who traveled from Ohio for an abortion last summer.

Rokita's suit, filed Friday, claims that the hospital, part of Indiana University Health System, violated HIPPA, the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, as well as a state law by not protecting the patient's information or punishing Bernard for speaking out about the pregnancy termination procedure she provided. Bernard worked at the time in the Indiana University Health clinic and is still employed by IU Health Physicians.

"The news story quoted the girl's doctor. The 10-year-old's treatment was a very private and sensitive matter, as was the abuse she suffered that resulted in her pregnancy. Neither the 10-year-old nor her mother gave the doctor authorization to speak to the media about their case," the complaint said. "Rather than protecting the patient, the hospital chose to protect the doctor, and itself."

The lawsuit names Indiana University Health and IU Healthcare Associates. According to the filing, IU Healthcare Associates does business as IU Health Physicians, which is listed as an affiliated covered entity by Indiana University Health. Indiana University Health said in a statement to CBS News it holds itself "accountable every day for providing quality healthcare and securing privacy for our patients."

"We continue to be disappointed the Indiana Attorney General's office persists in putting the state's limited resources toward this matter," it said. "We will respond directly to the AG's office on the filing."

The suit is the latest act of retaliation brought against Bernard by the attorney general, a vocal opponent of abortion rights. It also follows a defamation lawsuit that Bernard filed against Rokita earlier this year.

In November, Rokita filed a complaint with Indiana's medical licensing board seeking a suspension of Bernard's license to practice. The licensing board reprimanded Bernard in May, finding that she violated state privacy requirements by speaking openly about the Ohio child's medical treatment, but rejecting the attorney general's accusation claiming that Bernard violated another state law by declining to report the victim's child abuse case to Indiana authorities. The board fined Bernard $3,000 for the privacy violations, declining to suspend her license or impose any restrictions on her ability to practice medicine in Indiana.

Bernard first shared the story of the 10-year-old's medication abortion with the Indianapolis Star in the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court's decision in June last year to overturn Roe v. Wade. The ruling removed the constitutional right to choose to have an abortion and left state abortion laws up to the states themselves.

The 10-year-old patient from Ohio traveled to Indianapolis last summer for abortion medication because her home state outlawed pregnancy termination after the first detectable fetal heartbeat, without exceptions for minor children who were raped. A 28-year-old man ultimately confessed to raping the patient and was sentenced to life in prison in July.

In another development surrounding Rokita and Bernard, the Indiana Supreme Court alleged in a complaint filed Monday that Rokita violated professional conduct rules in past comments about the doctor.

The court's disciplinary commissions alleges that in an interview with Fox News host Jesse Waters in July 2022, Rokita violated the Indiana Rule of Professional Conduct on three counts. The complaint says he described Bernard in the interview as an "abortion activist acting as a doctor - with a history of failure to report" during an ongoing investigation, and intentionally made public statements and/or directed others "to issue public statements from July 2022 - September 2022 about the investigation of Dr. Caitlin Bernard, prior to a referral to the Medical Licensing Board, in contravention of the duty of confidentiality required" by the state.

Rokita's office opened an investigation into six complaints filed to the office's consumer protection division in July 2022, related to Bernard performing the pregnancy termination procedure. None were filed by patients of Bernard, commissioners said.

Rokita responded to the charges in a statement Monday and his office filed a formal response to the disciplinary commission's complaint, defending Rokita's actions.

"Hoosiers, in the largest number on record, elected me Attorney General because they knew they were getting a passionate fighter who - like them - is beating back the culture of death, grievance and transanity being pushed by radicals in workplaces, schools, media and government," Rokita said in the statement. He is seeking reelection for attorney general of Indiana in 2024.

"This work certainly includes vindicating vulnerable children (our most precious gift) for having their privacy rights unlawfully violated - without consent - by healthcare providers to further their political agenda and their 'bottom line,'" his statement continued. "I won't stop in this and my other work."

State procedure dictates that the subject of a complaint from the disciplinary commission may submit a formal response to any charges, a spokesperson for the Indiana Supreme Court said in an email to CBS News on Monday. After that, a trial-like proceeding can take place in lieu of an agreement by both parties submitted to the court. Asked by CBS News for additional comments about the filings, a spokesperson for Rokita's office referenced the attorney general's published statement and the response filing Indiana Supreme Court.

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

Indiana attorney general sues hospital over doctor talking publicly about 10-year-old rape victim's abortion

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita is facing accusations of violating professional conduct rules in a complaint filed by the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission. The complaint stems from statements Rokita made on Fox News in July 2022 regarding Dr. Caitlin Bernard, who performed an abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio. The case has become a focal point in the debate over abortion access.

 ..... The commission asserts that these comments violated rules prohibiting lawyers from making public statements that could "materially prejudice" a case.


The controversy surrounding Bernard began when she provided an abortion for a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio. The patient traveled to Indiana after her home state passed strict limits on abortion following the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade. Bernard shared the story with the media, prompting Rokita to file a complaint with the medical licensing board, accusing her of violating patient privacy rights and failing to report child abuse.

The medical licensing board reprimanded Bernard in May for speaking publicly about the patient's condition but rejected Rokita's accusation that she violated a state law by not reporting the child abuse case. Bernard was fined $3,000 for the privacy violations but faced no further restrictions on her medical practice.

Rokita's lawsuit against Indiana University Health System alleges that the hospital violated patient privacy laws by allowing Bernard to share the details of the abortion procedure without authorization from the patient or her mother. The suit accuses the hospital of prioritizing the protection of the doctor over the patient.

Indiana University Health responded to the lawsuit, expressing disappointment that the attorney general's office was allocating resources to the matter. The hospital vowed to respond directly to the attorney general's office regarding the filing.

In addition to the lawsuit, Rokita previously faced a defamation suit filed by Bernard. The ongoing legal battle between the two parties highlights the contentious nature of the abortion debate in Indiana.

The Indiana Supreme Court's disciplinary complaint against Rokita adds another layer to the controversy. The court alleges that Rokita violated professional conduct rules by making public statements about Bernard during an ongoing investigation. Rokita's office had opened an investigation into complaints related to Bernard's performance of the abortion procedure.

Rokita responded to the disciplinary charges, defending his actions and stating that he is committed to protecting the privacy rights of vulnerable children. ..... 

The next step in the process is for Rokita to submit a formal response to the disciplinary commission's complaint. Afterward, a trial-like proceeding may occur if both parties do not reach an agreement.


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