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Indiana's state medical board fined a doctor who made national headlines last year after she provided an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio. The girl traveled across state lines for the procedure as a result of Ohio’s restrictive abortion laws. Ali Rogin discussed the decision with Brandon Smith of Indiana Public Broadcasting.
We're also following a story in Indiana, where the state disciplined a doctor who made national headlines last year after she provided an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio. The girl had traveled across state lines for the procedure as a result of Ohio's restrictive abortion laws in the wake of the Dobbs decision.
After an emotional and confrontational hearing yesterday, the state medical board reprimanded Dr. Caitlin Bernard for violating patient privacy standards and issued a $3,000 fine. But they rejected harsher punishments pushed by the state's attorneys, who challenged Bernard in a number of tense exchanges.
Cory Voight, Indiana Deputy Attorney General:
Isn't it true that, but for the fact that you spoke to The Indy Star Reporter concerning what you viewed as a — would be a public health emergency, that we wouldn't be sitting here today?
Dr. Caitlin Bernard, Obstetrician-Gynecologist:
No, I don't think that's correct. I think that if the attorney general, Todd Rokita, had not chosen to make this his political stunt, we wouldn't be here today.
Brandon Smith of Indiana Public Broadcasting was in the room for all 14 hours of yesterday's proceedings. And he joins me now.
Brandon, thank you so much.
This was, of course, a case that made national headlines. It happened right in the wake of the Dobbs decision, President Biden weighed in on this. Remind us what Dr. Bernard is being accused of here and what the board decided.
Brandon Smith, Indiana Public Broadcasting:
Well, Dr. Bernard talked to an Indy Star Reporter about the case of the 10-year-old girl and mentioned in the interview that it was a 10-year-old girl from Ohio coming to Indiana for abortion.
And, after that, the attorney general, in addition to leveling accusations that he had no evidence of, ultimately decided to go to the state medical board because he said she had violated patient privacy, and he accused her of not reporting child abuse, and leveled the charge that she was unfit to practice medicine.
Now, the state medical board decided that, while none of the information that she had given to The Star Reporter actually fell under what's called protected health information under HIPAA, it — she said enough things that it might have made it easy to identify the victim and, therefore, she had violated her privacy rights. And so they leveled three counts under federal and state privacy laws.
But they summarily rejected the claims that she didn't report child abuse or that she was unfit to practice. And, as you mentioned, she was given a letter of reprimand, which doesn't really impede her ability to practice at all, and the $3,000 fine.
And we heard in the sound bite earlier, Dr. Bernard accused the board and the attorney general, Todd Rokita, of a political stunt. They have leveled that charge against her.
What's really going on here.
Well, Todd Rokita is a political creature. A lot of the decisions he makes seem to come from political motivations.
Now, Dr. Bernard also has an agenda. She is a fierce advocate for reproductive rights and has been for a long time. It's partly why she was at the rally where she spoke to The Indy Star Reporter about this case. It's why she talked about this case. She was trying to educate people about what was happening in Ohio and what could happen in Indiana.
But, ultimately, you see some of these charges that just didn't hold up that Todd Rokita leveled.
And, as you mentioned, the board did reject that more serious charge that would have found her unfit to practice medicine. It would have removed her medical license.
What would that have meant for abortion access in Indiana, if they had found her liable for that?
Yes, Caitlin Bernard is one of only two physicians who practices — who's licensed to practice complex family planning medicine in Indiana. So, taking away her license would have had huge consequences.
Even putting her on probation, which was briefly discussed by the board, for the violating the privacy laws, even that would have severely hindered Hoosiers' access to health care, because it would have meant she was unable to take Medicaid. So — and so the board did consider that when deciding not to impose probation on Dr. Bernard.
So it would have had a huge impact on the ability that people to access health care in Indiana.
And you spoke to a number of doctors who were in the hearing room in support of Dr. Bernard.
What did they tell you about what the stakes are here and what it could have said, what it says about access to reproductive health care in Indiana in a post-Roe world?
Well, they echoed the fears of Dr. Bernard that this was a purely political stunt, that this was politically motivated, and that, because they were — the attorney general was somewhat successful, that more could be coming if he disagrees with the practice of medicine that a person is performing.
It also has to do with — this is not in a vacuum. As you mentioned, in a post-Dobbs world, Indiana already struggles with access to maternal and infant health care. A third of our counties don't have a hospital or pregnancy center. And while Indiana was debating the abortion ban last year, last summer, the I.U. Health Med School, of which Dr. Bernard is an educator, surveyed all of its students, and 80 percent of them said the abortion ban in Indiana would play a factor in their decision whether or not to practice medicine in Indiana.
So this certainly exacerbates that already existing problem.
Very quickly, Brandon, who's on this board? Who — what is it comprised of?
It's comprised primarily of physicians. There is one sort of patient advocate who's an attorney, which plays certainly into a lot of what the board has to deal with.
But these are all appointees of the governor. And, in this case, as it has been for nearly 20 years in Indiana, that is a Republican.
Brandon Smith of Indiana Public Broadcasting, thank you so much for your time.
Thank you for having me.
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Ali Rogin is a correspondent for PBS News Weekend and a foreign affairs producer at the PBS NewsHour.
Tess Conciatori is a politics production assistant at PBS NewsHour.
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