(INDIANAPOLIS) — The attorney for an Indiana physician who performed an abortion for a 10-year-old girl from Ohio has sent a cease and desist letter to the Indiana attorney general over “false” and “defamatory” statements made about the doctor.
The cease and desist letter, which was sent Friday and obtained by ABC News, is the latest development stemming from the unsettling case, which has become a flash point in the national debate on abortion post-Roe v. Wade.
The incident first came to light in a July 1 report by the Indianapolis Star. Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an OB-GYN at Indiana University Health Medical Center in Indianapolis, recounted to the publication that she had a 10-year-old patient from Ohio who, at over 6 weeks pregnant, traveled to Indianapolis for an abortion after her state’s so-called heartbeat law banning most abortions went into effect after the Supreme Court overturned Roe.
The report gained national attention, with President Joe Biden referencing the IndyStar report during remarks made while signing an executive order on abortion access last week.
Meanwhile, some Republican leaders, including the Ohio attorney general, doubted the veracity of the report. The Wall Street Journal editorial board said it was “too good to confirm.”
On Tuesday, Columbus police arrested a 27-year-old suspect who allegedly confessed to raping the 10-year-old victim, who police said had traveled to Indianapolis to obtain a medical abortion on June 30. The suspect was ordered held on $2 million bond on Wednesday.
After the suspect was arraigned on the felony rape charge, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, a Republican, said his office was investigating Bernard “to prove if the abortion and/or the abuse were reported,” as is required under Indiana law.
“The failure to do so constitutes a crime in Indiana, and her behavior could also affect her licensure,” he said in a statement. “Additionally, if a HIPAA violation did occur, that may affect next steps as well. I will not relent in the pursuit of the truth.”
A termination of pregnancy report filed with the Indiana Department of Health obtained by ABC News shows that Bernard did report the abortion within three days of the procedure, as required by state law. Indiana University Health also released a statement Friday that an investigation has found Bernard to be in compliance with privacy laws.
The Columbus Division of Police, which was alerted to the girl’s pregnancy on June 22, was already investigating the rape case by the time the abortion was performed.
The cease and desist from Bernard’s attorney, Kathleen DeLaney, cites “false and defamatory statements” Rokita made to Fox News on Wednesday that “cast Dr. Bernard in a false light and allege misconduct in her profession.”
While appearing on Fox News Wednesday night, Rokita claimed that Bernard was an “activist acting as a doctor with a history of failing to report.”
“So, we’re gathering the information, we’re gathering the evidence as we speak and we’re going to fight this to the end, including looking at her licensure, if she failed to report,” he said. “And in Indiana it’s a crime to not report to intentionally not report.”
The cease and desist states that Rokita continued to make statements that “further cast Dr. Bernard in a false light and mislead consumers and patients,” even after the release of the termination of pregnancy report showed she complied with reporting laws.
“We are especially concerned that, given the controversial political context of the statements, such inflammatory accusations have the potential to incite harassment or violence from the public which could prevent Dr. Bernard, an Indiana licensed physician, from providing care to her patients safely,” DeLaney stated.
“Moreover, to the extent that any statement you make exceeds the general scope of your authority as Indiana’s Attorney General, such a statement forms the basis of an actionable defamation claim,” she continued.
The cease and desist comes a day after DeLaney said they were considering legal action “against those who have smeared my client, including Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita.”
In a statement to ABC News, a spokesperson for Rokita’s office said it will review the cease and desist “if and when it arrives.”
“Regardless, no false or misleading statements have been made,” the spokesperson said.
On Friday, Bernard’s colleague, Dr. Tracey Wilkinson, detailed in a guest essay in the New York Times how Bernard “became a target of a national smear campaign for speaking out about her 10-year-old patient.”
Bernard was supposed to co-write the essay, about the “chilling effect” the Supreme Court’s decision has had on medicine, until Rokita said his office will be investigating her, according to Wilkinson, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine.
“So I’m writing this essay myself, not only to bring attention to the chilling effect on medicine we’re seeing at this moment — but also because I’m terrified that I or any one of our colleagues could soon face what Dr. Bernard is going through after delivering care to our patients,” Wilkinson wrote.
After news broke of the arrest in the rape case, Bernard commented on Twitter Wednesday that her “heart breaks for all survivors of sexual assault and abuse.”
“I am so sad that our country is failing them when they need us most,” she said. “Doctors must be able to give people the medical care they need, when and where they need it.”
ABC News’ Will McDuffie and Kevin Kraus contributed to this report.
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