Indiana doctor threatens to sue state prosecutor for defamation in 10-year-old's abortion case
An Indiana doctor who performed an abortion on a 10-year-old Ohio rape victim threatened to sue Indiana's attorney general for defamation on Tuesday, filing a claim alleging that he made "false and misleading" statements about her handling of the case.
The case prompted a national outcry and scrutiny after the Indianapolis Star newspaper published a story, based on Indiana Dr. Caitlin Bernard's account, of a 10-year-old Ohio girl who traveled to Indiana for an abortion because an Ohio law banned the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy.
Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, a Republican, said last week that he was investigating whether Bernard had abided by state laws requiring doctors to report the termination of a pregnancy and suspected cases of child abuse, and whether she had violated federal patient privacy laws.
Rokita in a statement posted online along with a letter addressed to Indiana's governor said Bernard could face "criminal prosecution and licensing repercussions" if she failed to file the required reports on time.
The Indianapolis Star reported that it had obtained documents through a public records request showing that Bernard had, indeed, met the disclosure requirements in a form she filed with the Indiana Department of Health and the Indiana Department of Child Services.
Lawyers for Bernard filed a claim against Rokita on Tuesday, seeking unspecified damages for security costs, legal fees, reputational harm, and emotional distress, and giving the state 90 days to respond before potentially filing a defamation suit.
“Mr. Rokita’s false and misleading statements about alleged misconduct by Dr. Bernard in her profession constitute defamation per se," the claim said.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Rokita's office called the claim "an attempt to distract from the important work of the office, including the duty to determine whether practitioners have violated the standards of practice in his or her profession, as well as federal and state laws."
The 10-year-old girl was referred to Bernard for an abortion three days after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that legalised abortion nationwide. After Roe's fall, an Ohio law took effect banning abortion before most women know they are pregnant and barred the girl from getting an abortion in-state.
The story went viral, with abortion rights activists and even US President Joe Biden, holding up the case as an example of the consequences of Roe v. Wade's reversal, while abortion opponents cast doubt on the truth of the Indianapolis Star's report.
On July 13, an Ohio man was charged with raping the 10-year-old girl who traveled to Indiana for an abortion, corroborating the story.