INDIANAPOLIS — After 14 hours of testimony, debate, and witness statements the Indiana Licensing Board made a ruling on the case regarding Dr. Caitlin Bernard.
The hearing came in response to Attorney General Todd Rokita's complaint to the board that Dr. Bernard violated patient privacy law and failed to report alleged abuse properly.
The board had to determine both things.
First, they looked at if Dr. Bernard violated privacy law when telling a member of the media about a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio traveling to Indiana to get an abortion.
The conversation took place at a reproductive rights rally back in June of 2022.
Then they looked at if she violated abuse reporting laws in the state of Indiana when she knew the patient was sexually abused.
During testimony throughout the day the board heard from several witnesses both on the state's side and Dr. Bernard's legal team.
The state called an "expert" to the stand to discuss HIPAA and why he believed she violated the law.
Bernard's team did the same, but their "expert" shared how she did not release any protected information.
A social worker from IU Health was called to testify.
She shared IU Health's procedure in reporting sexual abuse.
She stated it is hospital policy for a social worker to report that abuse, Bernard agreed.
Both of which said this happened immediately in this case.
Bernard and her legal team also stated that Bernard knew that officials in Ohio were aware of the abuse, that law enforcement was involved, and a DCS case in the state was already open.
The board decided, unanimously, that Dr. Bernard did in fact report the abuse properly and to the right authorities.
On Friday, IU Health released the following statement
We appreciate the Medical Licensing Board’s time dedicated to understanding the issues involving our colleague Dr. Caitlin Bernard. We are pleased she will continue to be a member of our medical team and provide compassionate care to her patients. We do not agree with the Board’s decision regarding patient privacy regulations and stand by the HIPAA risk assessment. We believe Dr. Bernard was compliant with privacy laws.
The charge the AG's office filed was dropped.
The board also unanimously agreed that Dr. Bernard was fit to practice.
One board member shared it is no question she is a great doctor, with important expertise.
When asked during the testimony if Dr. Bernard believed the hearing Thursday would be taking place had she not spoken to a reporter Bernard disagreed.
"I think that if the Attorney General Todd Rokita had not chosen to make this his political stunt we wouldn't be here today," Bernard said.
Bernard expressed that in her opinion sharing the details she did about the patient was important due to her role of being an advocate for reproductive health.
"As part of my advocacy to support access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare I felt it was important to understand that they were going to call a special session and there was a real possibility that they would pass an abortion ban in Indiana with absolutely no exceptions and that patients like this one, would be forced to leave out of state for abortion care," Bernard said.
The board did find that Dr. Bernard violated patient privacy laws when telling a reporter details about the 10-year-old's case.
The votes in the matters about patient privacy were split, with the majority agreeing with the State.
The board found Bernard did so on three counts, at both a federal and state level.
"Like we have said in the last year this case was about patient privacy and the trust between the doctor and a patient that was broken. What if it was your child, your parent, or your sibling in a medical crisis, and the doctor who you thought was on your side, ran to the press for political reasons? It's not right and the facts that were presented today made that very clear," Kelly Stevenson from the Attorney General's Office stated.
Bernard was fined $1,000 per count (the maximum penalty allowed in the state), $3,000 total and was given a letter of reprimand.
The letter of reprimand does not impact Dr. Bernard's ability to practice and care for patients.
"I think it's incredibly unfortunate, as the intimidation of Dr. Bernard sends a message that this can happen to any physician that's providing comprehensive evidence-based healthcare to their patients," Dr. Tracey Wilkinson, Bernard's colleague said.
Bernard and her attorney did not provide a comment to the media after the proceedings.
Several of Bernard's colleagues sat throughout the entire proceeding and spoke to reporters after.
"It's terrible as physicians we are just trying to do the best things for our patient and their families and this decision really calls into question our ability to do that," Dr. Caroline Rouse said.
Wilkinson said she believes Bernard did nothing wrong regardless of the board's ruling.
"This sends a message to all doctors everywhere that political persecution can be happening to you next for providing healthcare to your patients," she said. "I think the one lesson I would say [I learned from all of this] is that you have to be incredibly brave and incredibly committed to your values and the things that you stand for because what happened today could happen to any of us."
When asked how she would describe Dr. Bernard Wilkinson said, "Dr. Bernard is the most compassionate healthcare provider. I would send my daughter to her, and any family or friend that I have that I know needs her care. I would tell them not to look or pay attention to the politicization that happened today and that's been happening for the last year and trust me when I say she is incredibly good at her job and the best person that they could get care from."
Some of Bernard's colleagues said they felt the hearing was a disappointment.
"We've been here for 13 hours listening to our friend and our colleague be put on trial for taking care of her patient and providing evidence based healthcare and that is incredibly demoralizing as a physician," Rouse said.
Rokita's office said they are pleased with the time that the board took on hearing the matter.
"We appreciate the medical licensing boards extraordinary time and consideration. Our team did a great job at creating and getting out the truth, Stevenson said.
The board will issue a final order based on the complaints and sanctions issued within 90 days.
After that is filed both parties have 30 days to appeal with a motion to the Marion County Superior Court.
Planned Parenthood CEO Rebecca Gibron released the following statement in response to the hearing:
“The fight to do what’s right isn’t easy. Dr. Bernard has repeatedly placed her profession, her reputation, and her livelihood on the line in her efforts to advance public health and serve her community. It is an honor to work with and support providers like Dr. Bernard—who are committed to care no matter what.
“Dr. Bernard’s unwavering dedication to her patients and profession is laudable, but the lengths she was forced to go to continue to deliver safe and legal care while experiencing abusive and hostile conditions is unacceptable. This could have all been avoided had Indiana AG Todd Rokita not made a mockery of his office–no provider should ever have to face politically motivated attacks simply for doing their job.
“Every person, in every circumstance, deserves access to health care when and where they need it. Dr. Bernard is an example of what it takes to make this basic human right a reality.”
Marc Tuttle, President of Right to Life of Indianapolis also released a statement on Friday, saying:
“This is a horrific case stemming from a horrific situation. We are grateful that Attorney General Todd Rokita was able address the breach of professional trust committed by Dr. Caitlin Bernard. The case itself reveals to Hoosiers how abortionists operate. Dr. Bernard readily and willingly put her patient -- who was not consulted or willing -- into the public light for her own agenda. She then deflected almost all accountability to her hospital employer, then to child protective services, then to law enforcement and then to the attorney general. It's clear that hospitals in our community should be thinking intensely about the liability abortionists like Dr. Bernard create for them, as well as their ability to protect victims from being placed back into homes and circumstances where they can be easy prey for sexual assault again.”
On May 31st, lawyers for Bernard released the following statement:
“We are deeply grateful that last week the Medical Licensing Board exonerated Dr. Bernard on Attorney General Rokita’s most serious and completely unsubstantiated claims, and that the Board Chair described Dr. Bernard as a ‘good doctor.’ As we await the written decision in this case, we are exploring all options for our next steps including using all legal tools possible. Dr. Bernard bravely stood up for access to compassionate medical care and she is a consummate professional who deserves to care for her patients without reproach,” said Alice Morical and the legal team at Hoover Hull Turner, LLP.
Last week after a 15-hour hearing, the Board issued a letter of reprimand and $3,000 fine to Dr. Bernard. The Board did not suspend Dr. Bernard’s license, as AG Rokita’s team requested. The Board’s ruling allows Dr. Bernard to continue providing medical care to patients in Indiana without limitation or condition. Dr. Bernard’s employer, IU Health, disagreed with the Board’s decision and said in a statement last Friday that they “believe Dr. Bernard was compliant with privacy laws.”