Indiana AG could face lawsuit from abortion provider for 10-year-old rape victim

Updated July 19, 2022 6:16 PM ET

An Indiana doctor who performed the abortion of a 10-year-old child abuse victim in Ohio takes a key step towards a potential libel lawsuit against Republican Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita.

“He is falsely accusing her of misconduct in her profession, so we want this smear campaign to stop,” attorney Kathleen DeLaney said in an interview Tuesday with NPR. “We want him and his office to stop bullying and harassing general health care providers who are simply doing the job they went to medical school to do.”

In a letter sent Tuesday to Rokita and other Indiana state officials, Caitlin Bernard’s attorney says she believes her client has suffered harm as a result of Rokita’s recent public statements to the about Bernard and his work as an abortion provider, after speaking publicly about caring for the 10-year-old patient.

“Statements that Dr. Bernard has a history of non-reporting,” which Mr. Rokita says would constitute a crime, made in the absence of a reasonable investigation, serve no legitimate law enforcement purpose. Given the current political atmosphere in the United States, Mr. Rokita’s comments were intended to bolster public condemnation of Dr. Bernard, who was legally providing legitimate medical care,” the letter read in part.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Rokita described the move as “part of a divisive narrative and an attempt to distract from the important work of the office” and called the claim “baseless.”

The story became the center of national attention after the June 24 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court quashing Roe v. Wade, which allowed Ohio’s six-week abortion ban to take effect. Rokita was among the prominent curators who questioned the veracity of the account Bernard gave to The Indianapolis Star in a story of patients crossing state lines.

After a 27-year-old man was charged with raping the 10-year-old girl in Franklin County, Ohio on July 13, Rokita called for an investigation into Bernard. In a Fox News interview that day, Rokita claimed without producing evidence that Bernard had “a history of not reporting” abortions as required by Indiana law.

The next day, Indiana health officials released a document in response to recording requests from NPR and other media outlets that appeared to contradict Rokita’s claim, showing that Bernard had reported the procedure on July 2. In this report, Bernard stated that she provided medication. the abortion of a 10-year-old abuse victim on June 30, who was about six weeks pregnant.

Indiana University Health, which employs Bernard, also said it conducted a review and determined it did not violate any privacy laws.

The document newly filed by Bernard’s attorney, called a notice of tort claim, is required by state law before Bernard can bring a defamation suit against Rokita. In it, DeLaney says she intends to seek damages from the state for “security costs, legal fees, reputational damage and emotional distress” in an amount that remains to be determined. State authorities have 90 days to respond.

In the letter, DeLaney also notes that Rokita has limited authority to investigate complaints against certain professionals, including doctors, and that state law requires him to “maintain such complaints in confidence” unless he has no intention of continuing. It indicates that as of July 13, Bernard’s license in Indiana was “active with no prior disciplinary record.”

A county prosecutor in the Indianapolis area, where Bernard works, said in an Associated Press report that he believed he alone had the authority to investigate in such circumstances and that Bernard was “subject to intimidation and bullying”.

Last week, Bernard’s attorney also sent a “cease and desist” letter to Rokita asking her to stop making what she describes as defamatory statements. In response, Rokita’s spokeswoman Kelly Stevenson told NPR in an email that “like all correspondence, it will be reviewed if and when it arrives. Regardless, no false or misleading statements are made. ‘was made.”

DeLaney said his office has not received any communication from Rokita that an investigation into Bernard is ongoing. She said Rokita and her team continued to make false claims online and in the press about Bernard.

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