Updated July 15 at 4 p.m
Indiana obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Caitlin Bernard has been caught up in a national political debate after discussing an abortion she performed on a 10-year-old who reported a rape in Ohio. Public attacks were made on Bernard with accusations of not following state and patient privacy laws.
Now, Bernard’s employer, IU Health, said the hospital system conducted an investigation and found that she followed patient privacy laws.
“IU Health routinely initiates reviews, including the matters in the news regarding Dr. Caitlin Bernard,” IU Health officials said in a statement. “IU Health’s investigation found that Dr. Bernard complied with privacy laws.”
After Roe v. Wade was overturned on June 24, state-level abortion restrictions began across the country. Ohio has banned abortions after six weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape or incest, which Barnard said prompted the family of the 10-year-old rape victim to cross state lines.
The political whirlwind began in early July after Bernard told the Indianapolis Star about the case. When the story came out, it went viral, garnering national and international attention. But at the time, there was no evidence that the rape or abortion actually took place, leading to a wave of public attacks on Bernard’s integrity.
This week, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita accused Bernard on Fox News — without providing evidence — of a history of failing to comply with state law that requires providers to report the abortions they perform.
“We have this abortion activist posing as a doctor with a history of not reporting [abortions]. So we are gathering the information, we are gathering the evidence as we speak,” Rokita said in the interview. “We will fight this all the way, including looking at her license if she has not reported. And in Indiana, it’s a crime to … willfully fail to report.”
Now, documents obtained and reviewed by NPR and WFYI from Indiana state health officials show Bernard was compliant in reporting the case to state health agencies.
In an emailed statement, Rokita said his office “is gathering evidence from multiple sources and agencies related to these allegations. Our legal review of this remains open.”
Bernard did not immediately respond to a request for comment — but she spoke to WFYI minutes after Rowe was overturned on June 24.
“I can’t tell you how many women I’ve seen who don’t want to have an abortion, they do it because it’s the only choice they have,” Bernard said as she fought back tears. “They can’t feed their families, they can’t go to work. They can’t continue their education, they can’t get out of the bully they’re in because of this pregnancy.
Bernard’s attorney, Indianapolis-based Kathleen Delaney, said in a statement Friday that she sent Rokita a cease and desist on behalf of her client, calling Rokita’s statements to Fox News “false and defamatory.”
“Furthermore, to the extent that any statement you make exceeds the general scope of your authority as Attorney General of Indiana, such statement forms the basis of an actionable defamation claim,” the cease and desist letter countries. “We are particularly concerned that, given the controversial political context of the statements, such inflammatory allegations have the potential to incite harassment or violence from the public that could prevent Dr. Bernard, a licensed physician from Indiana, from provide care [patients] safe.”
This isn’t the first time abortion providers like Bernard have been harassed and threatened across the country over the years. A report by the National Abortion Federation found that assaults on staff and patients at abortion clinics increased 128 percent in 2021 compared to the previous year. The data also shows a 6-fold increase in cases of stalking and a more than 4-fold increase in roadblocks.
Bernard told WFYI that she and her family were the subject of serious threats several years ago when she was working in Louisville, Kentucky.
“There was an online threat [against] the provider at a Kentucky clinic in Louisville where I worked at Planned Parenthood,” she said. “They threatened to kidnap her daughter to stop her from having abortions. And I’m the only doctor there who has a daughter.
In 2013, police arrested a man in Bloomington after he tried to break into a Planned Parenthood building with an ax. According to police reports, the man wanted to damage the building because the vendors were “killing” babies.
A special legislative session begins on July 25. Indiana lawmakers are expected to ban abortions, though lawmakers and Gov. Eric Holcomb have not commented on the extent of the ban.
This story comes from a reporting collaboration that includes the Indianapolis Recorder and Side Effects Public Media, a public health news initiative based at WFYI. Contact Farah at [email protected] Follow on Twitter: @Farah_Yousrym.