Indiana attorney general reprimanded for comments on doctor who provided rape victim’s abortion

Nov 2, 2023, 12:34 PM

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (AP) — Indiana’s attorney general violated professional conduct rules in statements he made about a doctor who provided an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio in the weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer, according to a court opinion filed Thursday.

The case sparked national attention after Dr. Caitlin Bernard discussed providing the 10-year-old girl with a medication-induced abortion during a July 1, 2022, interview with the Indianapolis Star. At the time, Ohio law prohibited abortions after six weeks of pregnancy but the girl could still be provided a legal abortion in Indiana.

The Indiana Supreme Court’s disciplinary commission found Todd Rokita, a Republican who opposes abortion, “engaged in attorney misconduct” during an interview he gave on a Fox News show in July 2022 about Bernard, an Indianapolis obstetrician-gynecologist.

The opinion specifically faulted Rokita for describing Bernard on the show as an “abortion activist acting as a doctor — with a history of failing to report” instances of abuse.

The opinion said Rokita violated two rules of professional conduct by making an “extrajudicial statement that had a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding and had no substantial purpose other than to embarrass or burden the physician.”

Rokita admitted to the two violations, and the commission dismissed a third charge, according to the opinion. The court issued a public reprimand and fined Rokita $250.

The initial complaint filed in September also alleged that Rokita violated confidentiality requirements by making statements about an investigation into Bernard prior to filing a complaint with the state’s Medical Licensing Board. It was not immediately clear if this is the allegation that was dropped.

Rokita denied violating confidentiality in a written statement responding to the court’s opinion.

In his statement, Rokita said he signed an affidavit to bring the proceedings to a close and to “save a lot of taxpayer money and distraction.” He also repeated his description of Bernard as an “abortion activist.”

“As I said at the time, my words are factual,” he said. “The IU Health physician who caused the international media spectacle at the expense of her patient’s privacy is by her own actions an outspoken abortion activist.”

It’s not clear whether the opinion chastising Rokita was limited to his claim that Bernard had a “history of failing to report” instances of abuse.

The Associated Press left a voicemail with Bernard’s attorney on Thursday.

Within weeks of Bernard’s July 2022 interview about providing the abortion, Indiana became the first state to approve abortion restrictions after the U.S. Supreme Court ended constitutional protections.

Bernard was reprimanded by Indiana’s medical licensing board in May, saying she didn’t abide by privacy laws by speaking publicly about the girl’s treatment. Hospital system officials argued against that decision. The medical board rejected allegations that Bernard failed to properly report suspected child abuse.

Rokita separately filed a federal lawsuit against her employer, Indiana University Health, in September, claiming the hospital system violated patient privacy laws when Bernard publicly shared the girl’s story. The lawsuit is still pending.

Gerson Fuentes, 28, who confessed to raping and impregnating the Ohio girl, was sentenced to life in prison in July.

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Indiana attorney general reprimanded for comments on doctor who provided rape victim’s abortion