Abortion rights protesters gather in the Indiana statehouse.

Doctor Who Gave 10-Year-Old Rape Victim a Legal Abortion Still Faces Punishment

In a hearing Thursday, the Ohio medical licensing board chose to reprimand and fine a doctor who performed a lawful abortion on a child victim of rape after the doctor was targeted by the state’s Republican Attorney General. 

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Just three days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer, Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an Indiana-based OB-GYN who performs abortions, received a call from a doctor in Ohio who specializes in child abuse. New abortion laws in Ohio banned abortions after six weeks, and this doctor had a 10-year-old rape victim in his office who was six weeks and three days pregnant, requiring her and her family to travel out of state for the procedure.

You might remember what happened next, as this became a pretty polarizing news story just as reproduction rights were being ripped away all around the country. The Indianapolis Star Tribune reported on the girl’s case, and anti-abortion monsters (a.k.a. Republican politicians and Fox News hosts) lost their damn minds and went after Dr. Bernard, who was able to treat the child perfectly legally since, for the time being, Indiana’s abortion ban had not yet moved from 22 weeks and up. 

Indiana’s Republican, anti-abortion rights Attorney General Todd Rokita, went on Fox News to announce a legal investigation into Dr. Bernard, launching a series of unproven accusations against her but was unable to make any big charges stick. Maybe because she didn’t break any law and was simply performing necessary and potentially life-saving medical care on a child with her parents’ permission?

Six months ago, according to NPR, Rokita filed a complaint with the Indiana medical licensing board, alleging that Bernard hadn’t reported the abuse (which she had) and had violated privacy laws (which she hadn’t) by talking to the media about the girl’s case. After a hearing on Thursday, the board’s official decision was to fine Bernard $3000 and officially reprimand her for violating medical privacy laws by talking to a reporter about the girl. However, multiple expert witnesses testified that Bernard had not given the media any legally protected information about the patient. The only information Bernard had ever given was the patient’s age, home state, and gestational age of her pregnancy, which is non-identifying and non-protected information. Additionally, the board was not able to pinpoint exactly what info they were saying was supposed to be protective.

As Bernard’s lawyer, Alice Morical put it, “Physicians can talk to the media. The question here and what is charged is that … Dr. Bernard shared protected health information. And the evidence will show that she did not share protected health information or violate the Indiana confidentiality regulation.” 

In the end, however, the seven-person board, which was appointed by Republican Governor Eric Holcomb, who signed the currently blocked abortion ban for Ohio, and two of which’s members are reportedly direct donors to Rokita, voted to fine and reprimand Bernard. Members of the national medical community, however, are not pleased. The American Medical Association released its own statement Friday in support of Bernard, saying they “oppose criminal and civil penalties or any retaliatory efforts against patients, patient advocates, physicians, or other healthcare workers for receiving, assisting in referring patients to, or providing [reproductive health] services.”

(featured image: Jon Cherry/Getty Images)


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Cammy Pedroja
Author and independent journalist since 2015. Frequent contributor of news and commentary on social justice, politics, culture, and lifestyle to publications including The Mary Sue, Newsweek, Business Insider, Slate, Women, USA Today, and Huffington Post. Lover of forests, poetry, books, champagne, and trashy TV.