The Indianapolis doctor who helped a 10-year-old Ohio rape victim obtain an abortion is being investigated by the state’s attorney general as the physician says she and her family have faced harassment in the weeks since she shared a story that’s garnered worldwide attention.
Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita sent a notice to the legal team for Caitlin Bernard on Tuesday advising it that the doctor is under investigation for how she had reported the procedure to state officials, as required by law, her attorney Kathleen DeLaney told The Washington Post.
Attorneys for Bernard recently took the first legal step in a possible defamation lawsuit against Rokita for what they say were “false and misleading statements” about the obstetrician/gynecologist in the days after she talked about helping the child, who traveled to Indiana for an abortion.
“We are in the process of reviewing this information,” DeLaney said in a statement Wednesday, adding the inquiry appears to have just been launched. “It’s unclear to us what is the nature of the investigation and what authority he has to investigate Dr. Bernard.”
Rokita and his office have repeatedly questioned whether Bernard reported the procedure to the state, even as records obtained by The Post show that the physician reported the girl’s abortion to the relevant agencies before the legally mandated deadline to do so. The attorney general has continued to cast doubt on the physician, despite Gerson Fuentes, 27, being charged with rape in the child’s case earlier this month.
In a Tuesday interview with NPR, Bernard said she has felt threatened since she shared the story of the 10-year-old rape victim’s abortion. Bernard’s representative previously acknowledged to The Post that the physician has faced harassment in the past, including being labeled a “local abortion threat” by an antiabortion group and forced to stop offering services at a clinic in 2020 after she was alerted of a kidnapping threat against her daughter.
“It’s honestly been very hard for me, for my family,” said Bernard, 37. “It’s hard to understand why a political figure, a prominent figure in the state, would want to come after physicians who are helping patients every single day in their state.”
She also fired back at the Republican politicians, conservative television pundits and media outlets that rode a wave of skepticism about whether the story of the child rape victim was true. (The Post also published a Fact Checker analysis that initially concluded that the report about the girl was a “very difficult story to check.”) Bernard challenged those who doubted the veracity of her story on “CBS Evening News.”
“Come spend a day in my clinic. Come see the care that we provide every single day,” Bernard told anchor Norah O’Donnell. “The situations that people find themselves in, and in need of abortion care are some of the most difficult that you could imagine. And that’s why we, as physicians, need to be able to provide that care unhindered, that medical decisions need to be made between a physician and their patients.”
She added, “I’m not the only provider who has taken care of young children needing abortion care.”
In a statement to The Post, Rokita accused Bernard of using “a 10-year-old girl—a child rape victim’s personal trauma—to push her political ideology.”
“As the Attorney General, I’m dutybound to investigate issues brought to my attention over which I have authority, especially when they involve children,” said Rokita, noting that his “heart breaks” for the 10-year-old rape victim. “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.”
The investigation into Bernard comes nearly four weeks after she told the Indianapolis Star in an article published July 1 that she had been called by a doctor in Ohio about a young patient who was six weeks and three days pregnant following a rape. The girl had an abortion at an Indianapolis clinic on June 30, almost a week after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
Bernard’s account, which was decried by President Joe Biden, was corroborated on July 13 when Fuentes was charged after authorities said he confessed that he had raped the 10-year-old on at least two occasions. If he is convicted of first-degree felony rape, Fuentes, who is being held on a $2 million bond, could face life in prison.
Since the charges were brought against Fuentes, Rokita has shifted his attention toward whether Bernard followed the appropriate protocols for reporting the abortion. In addition to documents showing that she did, officials with Indiana University Health told The Post that Bernard did not violate any privacy laws when she shared an anecdote with the media about the 10-year-old rape victim needing an abortion.
In the letter filed this month to Rokita and Indiana state officials, DeLaney wrote that the attorney general has limited authority to investigate complaints against professionals in certain fields, such as physicians. Bernard’s attorney wrote in the notice that Rokita’s goal was to “heighten public condemnation” of the doctor. Kelly Stevenson, a spokesperson with the attorney general’s office, told The Post last week how Rokita and his office would fight the “baseless claims” of any potential lawsuit that is “part of a divisive narrative and an attempt to distract from the important work of the office.”
While performing an abortion after six weeks remains legal in Indiana, lawmakers in the Republican-controlled legislature are considering further restrictions that would prohibit almost all abortions except in special cases such as rape, incest or times when a pregnant woman’s life is endangered.
Bernard told CBS on Tuesday that her sharing the story of the child rape victim was needed to raise awareness around “what the real-life implications are for people who need abortion care.”
“Unfortunately, sexual assault in children is not uncommon,” she said.
In the weeks since the Supreme Court overturned Roe, Bernard said the ramifications of the high court’s decision have proved that it will affect reproductive health care, not just abortions, in ways that potentially put a woman’s life at risk.
“I think we’re at a time in our country where people are starting to realize the impact of these antiabortion laws,” she told O’Donnell. “And now when it’s finally become impossible for some people, I think people realize that is actually not what they intended, that is not what they want for children, for women, to be put in these situations of life-threatening conditions of traumatic pregnancies.”
The physician also said Tuesday to CBS that Vice President Harris recently called her to thank her “for speaking out, for bringing this issue up.”
Bernard, who has become perhaps the most recognizable physician providing abortions in the country, declined to say to NPR whether she regretted speaking out, or if she would have handled the situation differently knowing what she knows now. But she said she remained grateful for the “immense outpouring” of support she’s received this month.
“I think people realize how important our voice as physicians as advocates for access to care can be,” she said. “I hope it will be inspiring and not deterring.”