It’s been nearly a month since an Indiana doctor helped a 10-year-old Ohio rape victim undergo an abortion and was thrust into the national spotlight.
In the weeks since, the US vice president called to thank the doctor for raising awareness around the issue while Indiana’s Republican attorney general opened an investigation into whether she potentially violated reporting and privacy laws.
“She thanked me for speaking out, for bringing this issue up, and she talked about how important it is to hear the voices of physicians in … what has been made into a political situation but is actually about healthcare,” Dr. Caitlin Bernard said in a CBS interview of the phone call she received from Vice President Kamala Harris after helping the young girl.
Meanwhile, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita on Wednesday reiterated that his investigation into the doctor continues, despite a cease and desist letter from her attorney, who has said Bernard followed “all relevant policies, procedures, and regulations in this case.”
The stark difference in response from the two public officials highlights the country’s ongoing and polarizing debate over abortion rights in the aftermath of June’s Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade and ended the federal right to abortion.
Bernard helped the child after Ohio banned almost all abortions after six weeks of gestation, she told CNN earlier this month, adding that the girl was more than six weeks into the pregnancy. The girl underwent the procedure in Indiana within a week of the Supreme Court’s ruling.
A 27-year-old man was charged with raping the 10-year-old girl and has pleaded not guilty.
AG reiterates that his investigation continues
Rokita announced earlier in July that his office was investigating whether Bernard reported the abortion and abuse as required by state law.
“The failure to do so constitutes a crime in Indiana, and her behavior could also affect her licensure. Additionally, if a HIPAA violation did occur, that may affect next steps as well,” Rokita had said. HIPAA – the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act – sets privacy standards for protecting patients’ personal medical information.
Bernard’s attorney, Kathleen DeLaney, sent a cease and desist letter to the attorney general on July 15 asking him to stop “making false and misleading statements about alleged misconduct by Dr. Bernard in her profession, which constitute defamation per se.” And last week, Bernard’s attorneys filed a tort claim notice against Rokita and his office in the first steps toward a possible defamation lawsuit for public comments he has made about Bernard.
Rokita on Wednesday called Bernard’s defamation claim against him “baseless,” saying,”It will take a lot more than that to intimidate us.”
“The baseless defamation claim and other accusations are really just attempts to distract, intimidate and obstruct my office’s monumental progress to save lives,” Rokita told CNN in a statement.
The attorney general also reiterated details of his investigation.
“My heart breaks for this little girl,” he said. “As the Attorney General, I’m dutybound to investigate issues brought to my attention over which I have authority, especially when they involve children. And as I said originally, we will see this duty through to verify that all of the relevant reporting and privacy laws were followed by all relevant parties.”
CNN has reached out to the attorney general’s office to ask them to further explain why they believe the defamation claim is baseless.
Under Indiana law, an abortion performed on a person younger than 16 years of age must be reported to the state’s Department of Health and also to the Department of Child Services within three days of the abortion.
Bernard reported the abortion procedure to the Indiana Department of Health on July 2 – two days after it was performed – as required by the department, according to agency documents obtained by CNN. CNN has reached out to the Indiana Department of Child Services to inquire if Bernard also filed the report with its office.
Bernard’s employer, Indiana University Health, conducted a review in this case with Bernard’s “full cooperation” and determined she was “in compliance with privacy laws,” it said in a statement earlier this month.
DeLaney, the doctor’s attorney, has said her client “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.”
“She has not violated any law, including patient privacy laws, and she has not been disciplined by her employer,” the attorney said earlier this month.
In her interview with CBS, Bernard also responded to the attorney general previously publicly calling her an “abortion activist acting as a doctor.”
“I am a physician,” Bernard said. “I’ve spent my entire life working to have this position, to be able to take care of patients every single day.”
CNN’s Sarah Boxer contributed to this report.