A state medical board is reprimanding an Indiana doctor who drew national attention after speaking publicly about providing an abortion for a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio.

Dr. Caitlin Bernard was called before Indiana's Medical Licensing Board after the state's Republican attorney general filed a complaint. A majority of board members found that she had violated privacy laws by speaking about the case, and voted to fine her $3,000 in addition to the reprimand.

At Thursday's hearing, Bernard said she spoke out about the case to inform the public about the impact of state abortion laws taking effect across the U.S., triggered by the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade last June.

"I think that it's incredibly important for people to understand the real-world impacts of the laws of this country, about abortion or otherwise," Bernard said during a day-long hearing on Thursday in Indianapolis. "I think it's important for people to know what patients will have to go through because of legislation that is being passed."

The hearing came months after Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, who opposes abortion rights, began criticizing Bernard for talking openly about providing a medication abortion for the girl, who traveled to Indiana from Ohio after her state's abortion ban took effect last summer. Ohio's law includes no exceptions for rape or incest.

Bernard spoke to an Indianapolis Star reporter for a story published days after the Supreme Court decision overturned decades of abortion-rights precedent.

In response, Rokita publicly criticized Bernard, suggesting that she'd failed to properly report the abortion as required by Indiana law. State health officials later produced documents refuting that claim. Rokita later began investigating Bernard and ultimately filed the complaint with the state Medical Licensing Board, accusing her of failing to report the girl's sexual assault to Indiana officials and of violating patient privacy laws with her public comments.

At the hearing, board members voted to reject one count that she had violated patient privacy laws, and another that would have found her unfit to practice medicine.

Cory Voight, an attorney with Rokita's office, told the board on Thursday that he believed Bernard had spoken out in an effort to "further her own agenda."

"To be sure, she was initially praised for it," Voight said. "She talked with the vice president of the United States, who commended her for speaking out. The president of the United States mentioned the matter when signing an executive order. She did subsequent media ... in furtherance of her own agenda."

During hours of testimony, Bernard and her lawyer told board members that she had not disclosed any protected information about the patient and had worked with hospital staff to make sure the matter was being properly investigated by law enforcement officials.

"Physicians can talk to the media," Bernard's attorney, Alice Morical, told the board. "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."

The board also heard from several witnesses, including hospital staff with the Indiana University Health system. Social worker Stephanie Shook testified that Bernard had worked with her to follow the health system's reporting procedures for abuse victims. Shook said there was "no doubt" in her mind that Bernard was aware that hospital officials were in communication with authorities in Ohio.

A review last year by Indiana University Health, which employs Bernard, found that she had complied with patient privacy laws.

This week, The Indianapolis Star reported that two of the seven members of the board had contributed to Rokita's campaigns. Rokita did not attend the hearing. But throughout the day, he tweeted highlights from the hearing, which was streamed online.

Abortion remains legal in Indiana, for now. Indiana's Republican governor, Eric Holcomb, signed a near-total abortion ban last August, but that law is currently on hold pending the outcome of a legal challenge before the state Supreme Court.

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An Indiana doctor became part of the national debate over abortion. And now the state medical board has reprimanded her.


Dr. Caitlin Bernard went public about performing an abortion for a 10-year-old rape victim who'd come to her from Ohio. Indiana authorities accused her of violating privacy rules. And she faced questions in a contentious hearing.


CORY VOIGHT: Do you have a tattoo of a coat hanger that says trust women on your body?

ALICE MORICAL: Objection. This testimony would be immaterial and irrelevant for this proceeding.

MARTIN: The board fined Bernard, but it also said she may continue practicing.

INSKEEP: NPR's Sarah McCammon has been following this story.

Sarah, good morning.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How did Dr. Bernard end up before that board?

MCCAMMON: Well, you should know this proceeding came after months of criticism of Dr. Caitlin Bernard by Indiana's Republican attorney general, Todd Rokita, and other prominent conservatives nationally. You know, she came to attention last July, just days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, when Dr. Bernard told the Indianapolis Star about providing abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim who'd traveled to her state from Ohio after a near-total abortion ban took effect there in Ohio.

Now, Attorney General Rokita seized on that story, suggested Bernard hadn't properly reported the abortion under state law. That was proven false by documents the state released later. But after that effort fell apart, Rokita began investigating her and ultimately filed a complaint with the Indiana Medical Licensing Board. Now, Bernard told that board yesterday that her goal had been to inform the public about the real-world impact of abortion laws on her patients.


CAITLIN BERNARD: I think it's important for people to know what patients will have to go through because of legislation that is being passed.

INSKEEP: OK. What was the case that she'd done something wrong?

MCCAMMON: So the state's lawyers argued that Bernard had acted inappropriately and with political motivations. They asked about her political beliefs, including that question we heard earlier about a tattoo. Cory Voight, who's with Rokita's office, the attorney general, accused Bernard of using her patient's story to, quote, "further her own agenda."


VOIGHT: This case is about a decision that Dr. Bernard made to speak about her patient to a reporter for the largest newspaper in Indiana.

MCCAMMON: Now, the attorney general has claimed, one, that Bernard violated patient privacy laws and, two, that she failed to properly report the rape to Indiana authorities.

INSKEEP: Well, if the attorney general was going to accuse her of a political agenda, did anyone accuse the state of furthering their political agenda here?

MCCAMMON: Certainly, Bernard's supporters have accused the attorney general of politically motivated attacks from the beginning. They've noted that this is, you know, a very unusual process. But her lawyers yesterday largely stuck to the facts. They pointed out that she reported the rape to hospital social workers in Indiana, in line with standard protocol, as she does in similar cases involving patients who are minors. And the licensing board sided with Bernard on that one. But a majority of members said they thought she gave too many details about the patient to the press. She did point out that her employer, the University of Indiana health system, did its own review last year and found that she had complied with patient privacy laws.

INSKEEP: If the board says she did something wrong, why can she continue practicing in Indiana?

MCCAMMON: Well, they talked about going a step further than this and putting her on probation. But, you know, Steve, they discussed the fact that Bernard is one of a very small number of OB-GYNs in Indiana who accept Medicaid in a state where more than a third of women who give birth rely on Medicaid. And the board ultimately said they can't afford to lose a doctor like Caitlin Bernard.

INSKEEP: NPR's Sarah McCammon with an update on a story in my home state.

Sarah, thanks so much.

MCCAMMON: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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