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Indiana attorney general reprimanded for comments on doctor who provided rape victim's abortion

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (AP) — Indiana's attorney general violated professional conduct rules in statements he made about a doctor who provided an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio in the weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer, according to a court opinion filed Thursday.

The case sparked national attention after Dr. Caitlin Bernard discussed providing the 10-year-old girl with a medication-induced abortion during a July 1, 2022, interview with the Indianapolis Star. At the time, Ohio law prohibited abortions after six weeks of pregnancy but the girl could still be provided a legal abortion in Indiana.

The Indiana Supreme Court's disciplinary commission found Todd Rokita, a Republican who opposes abortion, "engaged in attorney misconduct” during an interview he gave on a Fox News show in July 2022 about Bernard, an Indianapolis obstetrician-gynecologist.

The opinion specifically faulted Rokita for describing Bernard on the show as an “abortion activist acting as a doctor — with a history of failing to report" instances of abuse.

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The opinion said Rokita violated two rules of professional conduct by making an “extrajudicial statement that had a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding and had no substantial purpose other than to embarrass or burden the physician.”

Rokita admitted to the two violations, and the commission dismissed a third charge, according to the opinion. The court issued a public reprimand and ordered Rokita to pay $250 for court proceedings to the clerk of the Indiana Supreme Court.

The initial complaint filed in September also alleged that Rokita violated confidentiality requirements by making statements about an investigation into Bernard prior to filing a complaint with the state’s Medical Licensing Board. That charge was dismissed.

Rokita denied violating confidentiality in a written statement responding to the court's opinion.

In his statement, Rokita said he signed an affidavit to bring the proceedings to a close and to “save a lot of taxpayer money and distraction." He also repeated his description of Bernard as an “abortion activist."

“As I said at the time, my words are factual,” he said. “The IU Health physician who caused the international media spectacle at the expense of her patient’s privacy is by her own actions an outspoken abortion activist.”

It's not clear whether the opinion chastising Rokita was limited to his claim that Bernard had a “history of failing to report” instances of abuse.

The Associated Press left a voicemail with Bernard's attorney on Thursday.

Two of the court's five justices dissented in the opinion, believing the discipline was too lenient given Rokita's position and “the scope and breadth of the admitted misconduct."

Rebecca Gibron, CEO of the Planned Parenthood division that includes Indiana, said the reprimand was not enough.

“We are here for the people of Indiana no matter what,” Gibron said in a written statement. "And we are proud of Dr. Bernard and the many other providers for putting patients first, despite the hostile and dangerous environment that Rokita and anti-abortion extremists in this state have created.”

Within weeks of Bernard's July 2022 interview about providing the abortion, Indiana became the first state to approve abortion restrictions after the U.S. Supreme Court ended constitutional protections.

Bernard was reprimanded by Indiana’s medical licensing board in May, saying she didn’t abide by privacy laws by speaking publicly about the girl’s treatment. Hospital system officials argued against that decision. The medical board rejected allegations that Bernard failed to properly report suspected child abuse.

Rokita separately filed a federal lawsuit against her employer, Indiana University Health, in September, claiming the hospital system violated patient privacy laws when Bernard publicly shared the girl’s story. The lawsuit is still pending.

Gerson Fuentes, 28, who confessed to raping and impregnating the Ohio girl, was sentenced to life in prison in July.

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This story was first published on Nov. 2, 2023. It was updated on Nov. 3, 2023, to correct that Rokita paid $250 for court proceedings to the clerk of the Indiana Supreme Court. The payment was not a fine.