US doctor faces hearing over story of 10-year-old’s abortion

May 25, 2023  -BBC News –A US doctor who provided an abortion to a 10-year-old is facing a disciplinary hearing after speaking to media about the case.

Indiana officials say Dr Caitlin Bernard violated her patient’s privacy after she spoke publicly about the girl’s treatment.

Her lawyers argue she was acting on her duty to inform the public about the impact of policies like abortion bans.

It is not immediately clear what punishment she might face.

In July 2022, a month after a US Supreme Court ruling ended the nationwide guarantee to an abortion, the Indianapolis Star published a story detailing Dr Bernard’s account of treating a 10-year-old rape survivor. The child had travelled from neighbouring Ohio to Indiana to receive an abortion.

At the time, Ohio law prohibited abortion after six weeks of gestation.

The case of the 10-year-old, who was a victim of child abuse, being denied an abortion quickly gained national attention. Pro-choice advocates – including President Joe Biden – used the case as an example of the impact of restrictive abortion bans.

Later that month, an Ohio man was charged with raping the 10-year-old girl, who has remained unnamed.

Last November, the Indiana State Attorney General’s office filed a complaint alleging that Dr Bernard failed to immediately report the abuse of the child, as required by state law, and to protect patient privacy.

She testified that she followed her hospital’s policy by reporting the patient’s abuse to a social worker.

“As a physician my role is to provide care for the patient no matter how she winds up in my care, it is not my job to investigate the crime,” she said.

A hearing before the state Medical and Licensing Board is being held on Thursday.

During the hearing, state officials sought to portray Dr Bernard as an “abortion activist” who shared details about the procedure with the media without first requesting permission from the child’s family.

“Trust was violated when (Bernard) sought to further her own agenda,” said Deputy Attorney General Cory Voight of the accusations facing the physician. He said if the board agreed with the state’s complaint, Dr Bernard “has become unfit to practice”.

Dr Bernard was at times emotional in her testimony as she discussed treating other underage patients who were victims of abuse and had sought abortions.

She said she did not violate her patient’s privacy, or release protected health information in discussing the case with the Indianapolis Star.

“I think that it’s incredibly important for people to understand the real-world impacts of the laws in this country, about abortion or otherwise,” Dr Bernard said. “I think that it’s important for people to know what patients will have to go through because of legislation that’s being passed.”

At the conclusion of the hearing, members of the medical board are expected to vote on whether Dr Bernard’s conduct merits disciplinary action. Indiana’s state medical licencing board has the ability to suspend or revoke a medical licence or place the physician on probation.

The attorney general’s initial complaint requests “appropriate disciplinary action” but stops short of demanding specific punishment.

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