Hours after a man was charged Wednesday with raping a 10-year-old Ohio girl, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita (R) questioned whether the Indianapolis doctor who helped the child obtain an abortion had reported the procedure to state officials, as required by law.
Rokita again raised doubts Thursday in a letter to Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R), saying that his office had requested, but not received, documentation from state agencies that the girl’s abortion had been properly reported by the OB/GYN, Caitlin Bernard.
But records obtained by The Washington Post on Thursday afternoon show that Bernard indeed reported the minor’s abortion to the relevant state agencies before the legally mandated deadline to do so. The doctor’s attorney, Kathleen DeLaney, said in a statement to news outlets that Bernard is “considering legal action against those who have smeared [her], including Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita.”
“My client, Dr. Caitlin Bernard, took every appropriate and proper action in accordance with the law and both her medical and ethical training as a physician,” DeLaney said. “She followed all relevant policies, procedures, and regulations in this case, just as she does every day to provide the best possible care for her patients.”
DeLaney sent a cease-and-desist order to Rokita on Friday.
“Please cease and desist from making false and misleading statements about alleged misconduct by Dr. Bernard in her profession, which constitute defamation per se,” she wrote.
Officials with Indiana University Health told The Post in a statement Friday that Bernard did not violate any privacy laws when she shared an anecdote with the media about the 10-year-old rape victim needing an abortion in Indiana.
“As part of IU Health’s commitment to patient privacy and compliance with privacy laws, IU Health routinely initiates reviews, including the matters in the news concerning Dr. Caitlin Bernard,” IU Health officials said. “IU Health conducted an investigation with the full cooperation of Dr. Bernard and other IU Health team members. IU Health’s investigation found Dr. Bernard in compliance with privacy laws.”
Katie McHugh, an Indiana OB/GYN and board member with Physicians for Reproductive Health, called the allegations “baseless attacks” that underscore how “abortion providers are being targeted by a state that is creating a threatening pose that is neither legal, nor is it appropriate.”
“This is a waste of government time and of taxpayer dollars for a political stunt that doesn’t chase after the actual criminal here,” McHugh added. “It doesn’t even center on the victim and instead focuses on a physician providing legal and evidence-based care.”
In Indiana, abortion is legal up to 22 weeks into a pregnancy. Under the state’s laws, providers are required to report all pregnancy terminations within 30 days. For patients younger than 16, the reporting window is cut to three days, and doctors must alert both Indiana’s department of health and department of child services — a way for authorities to quickly launch investigations into possible child abuse cases.
The case of the 10-year-old Ohio girl was first reported by the Indianapolis Star on July 1, one week after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Although the story quickly gained international attention, it was followed by a wave of skepticism from conservative politicians, pundits and media outlets that expressed doubts. (The Post also published a fact-check that initially concluded the girl’s abortion was a “very difficult story to check.”)
On Wednesday, however, the Columbus Dispatch confirmed the account, reporting that a 27-year-old man, Gerson Fuentes, had been charged with raping the girl. According to the newspaper, a detective testified in court that the girl had received an abortion in Indianapolis on June 30.
The 10-year-old initially sought treatment from an Ohio doctor but was unable to receive abortion services because she was just over six weeks pregnant, the cutoff imposed by a new Ohio law. The doctor then asked Bernard for help — “and so the 10-year-old girl was soon on her way to Indiana to Bernard’s care,” the Star reported.
According to the report obtained by The Post, Bernard alerted Indiana’s department of health and department of child services of the girl’s abortion on July 2, noting that she had been a victim of abuse.
During his Wednesday night interview with Fox News, Rokita also accused Bernard of having “a history of failing to report” child abuse cases — an allegation that hinges on claims made by an antiabortion group in 2018 that have since been amplified by some conservative outlets.
That year, Indiana Right to Life alleged that nine physicians across the state, including Bernard, “failed to follow the legal reporting requirements to protect young children from sex abuse” in 48 cases between July 2017 and May 2018.
However, those claims appear to be stretched. They’re based on 48 instances where the doctors reported abortions on minors to the Department of Health but left blank a field asking for the date when the cases were reported to the Department of Child Services, according to a 2018 article in the South Bend Tribune.
Indiana Right to Life filed complaints against the physicians with the state health department and the attorney general’s office. The outcome of the state’s investigation into the complaints is unclear. A spokeswoman for the organization said that “the State did look into it,” but when asked to share related documents, she referred The Post to the attorney general’s office, which did not address an inquiry about them.
The Indiana Department of Health did not respond to multiple requests from The Post. A review of records from DocInfo — a physician licensure and disciplinary information data set from the Federation of State Medical Boards — and the Medical Licensing Board of Indiana did not show any disciplinary activity or license terminations against Bernard or any of the other doctors.
Rokita’s office did not respond to requests for further documentation of his claims.
Some abortion services will likely be outlawed as Indiana’s Republican-controlled legislature holds a special legislative session later this month. Though details of the proposed abortion law are scant, it’s expected to closely follow a model for legislation crafted by National Right to Life general counsel Jim Bopp, Politico reported. Bopp’s model almost completely bans abortion — with a sole exception for cases where the pregnant person’s life is at stake.
The restrictions could come at a time when Indiana abortion providers are facing an uptick in patients seeking the procedure. McHugh said three of the state’s nine clinics have stretched their operations to increase their patient load by at least 50 percent since Roe was reversed. Many patients, such as the 10-year-old girl from Ohio, hail from neighboring states with more restrictive laws.
“There are so many cases just like that one. Every abortion provider I am privileged to know has taken care of patients that are preteens victimized and impregnated by predators,” McHugh said. “Her story isn’t new, and it’s not something that was invented. This just shows that restrictions and regulations don’t prevent abortion — they only serve to make it less safe.”
Roe v. Wade and abortion access in America
What happens next?: The legality of abortion will be left to individual states. That likely will mean 52 percent of women of childbearing age would face new abortion limits. Thirteen states with “trigger bans” will ban abortion within 30 days. Several other states where recent antiabortion legislation has been blocked by the courts are expected to act next.
State legislation: As Republican-led states move to restrict abortion, The Post is tracking legislation across the country on 15-week bans, Texas-style bans, trigger laws and abortion pill bans, as well as Democratic-dominated states that are moving to protect abortion rights enshrined in Roe v. Wade.
How our readers feel: In the hours that followed the ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Washington Post readers responded in droves to a callout asking how they felt — and why.