By ARLEIGH RODGERS, Associated Press/Report for America
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Lawyers for an Indianapolis doctor who performed an abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio told a judge on Friday that the Indiana attorney general should not be allowed to access patient medical records for the investigation of undisclosed complaints.
Dr. Caitlin Bernard; his medical partner, Dr. Amy Caldwell; and their patients sued Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita on Nov. 3 to try to block him from accessing the records. Doctors say Rokita’s conduct ‘violates numerous Indiana laws’, including a state requirement that his office must first determine that consumer complaints are ‘founded’ before it can investigate. physicians and other licensed professionals.
The state argued it was authorized to access the records to investigate three consumer complaints accusing Bernard of improper care.
“The consumer complaints were 100% made by people who had never met Dr. Bernard, had never received medical care from Dr. Bernard, were not involved in the care of this patient in any way whatever,” lawyer Kathleen Delaney refuted in a press conference after the hearing. “They’re complaining about something they saw on TV or heard about on social media.”
Bernard first gained national attention after speaking to The Indianapolis Star about a 10-year-old girl who traveled to Indiana from Ohio for an abortion in June, shortly after the Ohio’s “fetal heart rate” law came into effect following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. These laws prohibit abortions from the time heart activity can be detected in an embryo, which is usually around the sixth week of pregnancy.
Rokita told Fox News in July that he would look into whether Bernard violated child abuse notification or abortion reporting laws. He has made no specific allegations of wrongdoing, and court records from Thursday indicate he is no longer investigating Bernard “for breaching” the abortion reporting law.
Records obtained by The Associated Press and other news outlets show that Bernard submitted his report on the girl’s abortion on July 2, which matches Indiana’s required three-day reporting period for an abortion performed on a girl under the age of 16.
A 27-year-old man was charged that month in Columbus, Ohio, with raping the girl, confirming the existence of the case, which was initially met with skepticism by some media outlets and Republican politicians. President Joe Biden expressed empathy for the child while signing an executive order protecting access to abortion.
Kelly Stevenson, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said in an email that “our team always follows the law and seeks the truth, because that is the role of the attorney general.”
“We place the utmost importance on patient privacy and ethical standards in medicine. We will continue to push forward in this legal battle to ensure the privacy of every patient in Indiana is protected,” she added.
But Delaney said that due to the 27-year-old’s arrest, “the idea that Dr Barnard did not cooperate with law enforcement is simply wrong”.
State Attorney Caryn Nieman-Szyper also questioned Friday whether anything Bernard told The Indianapolis Star violated federal medical privacy laws. Nieman-Szyper looked specifically at the rules of the federal privacy law known as HIPAA, for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which prohibits a doctor from disclosing certain dates associated with his patients. .
“Although Dr. Bernard claims to be suing as a champion of her patient’s right to privacy, she is the one who exposed her patient’s private medical journey to the public and thus the life-threatening one. patient’s privacy,” the state wrote in court documents. .
At the hearing, lawyers for the doctors called three physicians — two bioethicists and an obstetrician-gynecologist — who described to Marion County Judge Heather Welch that respecting the doctor-patient relationship is the cornerstone medical care.
Dr. Kyle Brothers, a Louisville pediatrician, described the link as “a deal, a promise” and that if the government were to seize a patient’s medical records, the patient’s trust in their doctor could be shattered and put them off. to get treatment.
“That kind of disclosure, especially for a minor, is heartbreaking, or something,” he said. “Something really awful.”
Welch plans to decide this weekend whether Bernard, who was out of the country on Friday, will testify.
“Every patient should know that their medical records will not be handed over to any politician who decides to open an unfounded investigation based on their own political agenda,” Bernard said in a statement.
Arleigh Rodgers is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues. Follow Arleigh Rodgers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/arleighrodgers
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.