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Indiana AG sues hospital that ‘chose to protect’ doctor who provided abortion care for 10-year-old Ohio girl raped by her mother’s boyfriend


Left: FILE – In this Jan. 11, 2021 file photo, Indiana’s attorney general Todd Rokita speaks, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File). Right: Obstetrician Caitlin Bernard attends the Time100 Next list at SECOND on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Inset: Image via Indiana University Health.

Following his failed attempt to discipline the doctor who shared the story of the 10-year-old Ohio rape victim who traveled to Indiana for an abortion, the state’s anti-abortion attorney general has now sued the hospital system that employed the doctor.

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita filed a 28-page complaint in federal court in Indiana Friday against Indiana University Health, Inc. (IUH). Rokita alleged that without the consent of the patient or her parent and while the girl was still hospitalized, the girl’s doctor described personal details of the young patient’s traumatic ordeal to the news media. Rokita argued in the complaint that the doctor’s actions violated HIPAA rules and implied that the hospital’s internal investigation process was inadequate.

“Rather than protecting the patient, the hospital chose to protect the doctor, and itself,” the complaint says.

Dr. Caitlin Bernard was reprimanded in May by the Indiana Medical Licensing Board for tipping off an IndyStar reporter to the story of the young rape victim who crossed state lines to get abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022. The story swept national headlines in the weeks immediately following the Court’s landmark ruling as the girl’s experience stood as a shocking example of the consequences of restrictive abortion laws.

Despite the reprimand issued against Bernard, the board did not revoke the doctor’s medical license.

“By publicly contradicting the Medical Licensing Board by contending [the doctor’s’ actions were ‘in compliance with privacy laws,'” the complaint says, and through “inconsistent application” of privacy policies, IUH has created “inconsistencies and confusion [that] threaten the privacy of its Indiana patients.”

In his complaint against IUH, Rokita characterized Bernard as a wrongdoer who violated her patient’s trust as well as her professional responsibilities.

“Dr. Bernard knew or should have known that any disclosure of information related to the 10-year-old patient could generate public interest that could result in additional requests to obtain copies of the redacted Termination of Pregnancy Report related to the 10-year-old patient,” Rokita argued.

The conservative attorney general also noted Bernard’s activism in the wake of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling:

Dr. Bernard attended a public rally she helped organize on the IU School of Medicine campus. Dr. Bernard was one of the leaders of the rally, carrying a bullhorn, leading chants and acting as one of the speakers.

While “still checked-in at the hospital, the mother and daughter were greeted with an above-the-fold front page news story in the local paper, Indianapolis Star, describing the 10-year-old’s case,” said Rokita.

Rokita’s complaint also discussed the impact that Bernard’s disclosure had on the case of Gerson Fuentes, the boyfriend of the 10-year-old’s mother, who was charged with first-degree rape of the girl in July 2022. Fuentes pleaded guilty to the crime a year later and was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 to 30 years. Multiple news outlets, including Law&Crime, are named in the complaint as having requested records or footage of the proceedings against Fuentes.

As for the hospital’s role in the matter, Rokita argued in his complaint that by “publicly ratifying Dr. Bernard’s misconduct, IUH has revealed a systemic flaw in its implementation and administration of HIPAA rules that affect the privacy of all its patients.”

Rokita asks that the court issue an injunction against IUH for any continued HIPAA violations as well as unspecified damages.

Rokita has taken part in several high-profile conservative campaigns, most of which have failed from a legal perspective. Rokita was skewered in the press for declaring victory despite Bernard’s exoneration by the state licensing board. Rokita’s lawsuit against TikTok for allowing the Chinese government to access user data was slammed by a federal court for being “devoted to irrelevant posturing.” In July 2023, Rokita led a charge against Target, calling its Pride collection “obscene.”

Rokita’s lawsuit against IUH was initially assigned to Senior U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker, a Ronald Reagan appointee and the first woman to serve as a federal judge in Indiana. Barker, who has been on senior status since 2014, recused herself from the case on the same day the case was filed.

In 2019, Barker ruled against the State of Indiana and issued an injunction against the state’s restrictive law that required all minors to obtain parental consent before obtaining an abortion. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit — the appellate court upon which Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett sat — ultimately reversed Barker’s ruling.

Rokita’s case against IUH has now been reassigned to U.S. District Judge Matthew P. Brookman, a Joe Biden appointee.

In an emailed statement, a representative from IUH said:

At IU Health, we hold ourselves 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. We will respond directly to the AG’s office on the filing.

You can read the full complaint here.

Rokita’s office did not immediately respond to request for comment.

On Monday, the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission filed a disciplinary complaint against Rokita over comments he made to Fox News host Jesse Watters about Bernard. According to the complaint, Rokita’s statement — referring to Bernard as an “abortion activist acting as a doctor — with a history of failure to report — violated at least three different Rules of Professional Conduct applicable to Indiana lawyers.

Investigations have determined that Bernard did indeed comply with privacy laws, and that Rokita’s attacks on the doctor caused “irreparable harm” to her reputation.

You can read the disciplinary complaint, which calls for Rokita to be “disciplined as warranted for professional misconduct” and cover costs of the investigation and review process, here.

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos