IN Brief

Indiana Medical Licensing Board finalizes ruling that Bernard violated patient privacy laws

By: - July 31, 2023 5:46 pm

Dr. Caitlin Bernard waits for a question from the Attorney General’s Office at a medical licensing hearing on May 25, 2023. (Whitney Downard/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

The Indiana Medical Licensing Board has finalized administrative charges against Indianapolis OB-GYN Dr. Caitlin Bernard, who board members determined violated state and federal patient privacy laws when she publicly discussed a 10-year-old rape victim seeking an abortion in Indiana. 

A final order and letter of reprimand were filed last week, two months after the board held a 14-hour hearing in late May — which concluded with sanctions against the doctor. Ultimately she was given a reprimand and fined $3,000.

In the disciplinary letter to Bernard, the board emphasized an expectation to keep confidential “all knowledge and information” about her patients.

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The order additionally states that while federal privacy laws allow for disclosures in a few circumstances — including when a patient authorizes the release — Bernard “has not provided any information to demonstrate her disclosure … fell within one of those limited circumstances.”

The order adds that “when taken in their entirety,” the disclosures Bernard made about the 10-year-old patient fell outside the bounds of the law.

Bernard and the Attorney General’s Office have 30 days to appeal the decision to the Marion County Superior Court.

Bernard’s legal team said in a statement that it is now evaluating “next steps” and deciding on an appeal.

“In May, the Indiana Medical Licensing Board exonerated Dr. Caitlin Bernard on Attorney General Rokita’s most serious and baseless allegations,” the statement, attributed to attorneys with the law firms DeLaney & DeLaney, Hoover Hull Turner and Arnold & Porter, read. “While we’re grateful that the board reaffirms this ruling in their written decision, we continue to dispute the MLB’s finding that Dr. Bernard violated patient privacy.”

Bernard is still providing medical care, according to the statement.

When asked, Rokita’s office did not comment on possible appeals.

The matter stems from a legal saga surrounding the doctor, who last year oversaw a medication abortion for the girl.

A complaint against the doctor was filed by Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita in November. 

The case garnered nationwide attention and has drawn fear from health care practitioners and advocates who say it could have a chilling effect for abortion care providers.

The state sought a suspension of Bernard’s medical license. Rokita maintained that Bernard “failed to immediately report the abuse and rape of a child to Indiana authorities” after performing the girl’s abortion. His office also argued that Bernard “failed to uphold legal and Hippocratic responsibilities” by “exploiting a child’s traumatic medical story to the press for her own interests.”

The board declined to take action affecting Bernard’s ability to practice. Before the decision, she had never been disciplined by the licensing board.


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Casey Smith
Casey Smith

A lifelong Hoosier, Casey Smith previously reported on the Indiana Legislature for The Associated Press. Internationally, she has reported on water quality across South America. She holds a master’s degree in investigative reporting and narrative science writing from the University of California/Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. She previously earned degrees in journalism, anthropology and Spanish from Ball State University, where she now serves as an instructor of journalism.